Reading By The Numbers

Goodreads see what your friends are reading

Accessed 12/25/2018 at 8:20 pm ET

Yesterday, I wrote about reading resolutions. I noted that of all the reading resolutions shared with me, none had to do with numbers. Nor did mine. Yet numerical reading challenges are a big deal among many bibliophiles.

The most famous is Goodreads’ yearly reading challenges. You have to have a free Goodreads account. Each year, you can set your own challenge goal beginning a few days before January 1. People set a variety of challenge goals from reading one book to hundreds. As you can see from above, the average is 60, a healthy goal of more than one per week. Your home page will show a progress bar, and whether you are ahead, behind, or on track to reach your goal. All your friends can see how you are progressing as well. You can also see how many pages you’ve read and compare your statistics to past years, what reading you’ve done in various categories and more.

LibraryThing also offers challenges at different levels (50, 75, etc.) and allows you to join groups and post what books you are reading. People make up a variety of creative challenges of reading different genres, reading through the alphabet (each book title starts with a successive letter of the alphabet), and a variety of other creative challenges.

Other groups I’ve seen offer monthly challenges. These involve the whole group reading a different type of book each month: eg. science fiction one month, a book about presidents the next. I know one group that is trying to read consecutively biographies of each U.S. president. I could see such challenges building a sense of community–physical or virtual.

I think if this sort of thing is fun and life-giving and occurs in the context of reading that enriches your life, then there is no harm in this, and even positive value in encouraging you and others in your challenge to read, and maybe get exposed to books they might not otherwise read. Personally, it is not something I pay a great deal of attention to. For the fun of it, I always set a goal on Goodreads, but it is a low one for me. I don’t want my reading driven by one of these goals.

It is interesting to me to see how people actually do on Goodreads in comparison with goals. For example, people pledged to read an average of 60 books. So far this year (as of the evening of 12/25 when I’m writing this), they’ve actually read just under 13, a bit over one a month. More striking to me is that slightly less than 0.7 percent of people have completed their challenge with a week to go. Maybe there will be a spurt in the last week. I wonder how many will read a bunch of really short books to reach their goal (I’ve heard of people doing this).

This suggests to me that this reading challenge thing isn’t working for quite a number of people. I would propose, instead, thinking about the number of minutes a day you want to read and figuring out where you will set aside that time in your day. A rough guide is that for every minute you read, you will read that many books in a year (15 minutes, 15 books; 60 minutes, 60 books; etc.). That might vary based on length of the book and the type of book.

The real point is figuring out where in your life you will make space for reading, if you share my belief that reading is a valuable, life-enriching activity. It might mean something as simple as deciding to read a book for the twenty minutes of your mass transit commute each day instead of flipping through your phone. I get 30 minutes of reading in on my Kindle each day while on my treadmill. Hopefully some of your time is in a comfortable chair with your favorite beverage.

Mortimer Adler is reputed to have said, “In the case of good books, the point is not to see how many of them you can get through, but rather how many can get through to you.” It seems to me that the only benefit of any of these number games is to set us up for books to get through to us. If that isn’t happening in our number games, it might be better to abandon them, or at least ask ourselves why we are reading. What good is it to read 52 books if we can’t express what the value of any of these was to our lives? By the same token, a single book that changes our mind, that captures our imagination, that informs a critical choice, that gives us hope, or that inspires by example counts for more than all those forgotten books.

What it comes down to for me is that I don’t want to read more; I want to read well. I hope that for you. My reviews started and continue to function as a way of helping me read well, by trying to capture the essence and significance of a book. At least some times, that seems to be helpful for others, in figuring out what is worthy of their time and attention.

So, my hope for all of us in 2019 is that we read well, however few or many books we read. It seems to me that this is what the precious gift of literacy is all about.


Shelving Solutions


One of my shelves

One of the challenges for voracious readers is where to shelve their books. In terms of physical books, I am at the point where any book I finish goes on the giveaway or resale piles unless I pull something else off the shelves in its place. If I haven’t thought of or read the book in ten years, it’s a good candidate to get culled out.

Bookriot article today, “Ways to Shelve Your Books on Goodreads” brings up another shelving dilemma that our book apps create. Where do we shelve our books electronically? Actually, this has been quite useful at times when I have done posts on books in a particular category. The challenge is figuring out the categories, which I may suspect vary widely from person to person. The article suggests some different ways including the year read, the format and location, the genre, by author and book identifier. Here’s what mine currently looks like:

Goodreads Bob Trube The United States 1 056 books

The article provides several examples for different kinds of readers. I am probably much like the author of the article in that my categories get more specific with types of literature I especially like. In my case, it has to do with various subcategories of Christian literature. Mine include works of theology, spiritual formation, on culture, on politics, leadership, ethics, apologetics, and Bible study and more. Under biography, I created a category of presidential biographies because this is one of my favorite genres. Probably I should create one on British royalty!

That brings up another question. When do you create a new category? And if you do, do you go back and “re-shelve” books into that category. I did this with presidential biographies and when I created my “inklings” shelf, but, because I read numbers of books, that can be a bit of work. I might be inclined to consider it “busywork” that I don’t have time for. But that is just me.

Probably the greatest usefulness of this to me is that I regularly get asked the question of “what is a good book on…?” It can be handy to pull up my shelves on my phone and offer a few suggestions. If it was just up to memory, I’d probably find myself saying, “I’ll get back to you” which may never happen.

It is also handy in providing a more extensive set of categories than is easily accommodated here on the blog. I still dream of creating an indexing system that would work here, but at this point it is a dream. You can always search a title on the blog. For categories, my Goodreads page works better and all the reviews I do here are also there.

All this falls in the category of “first world problems.” My suggestion if you are trying to create more shelves than “reading” and “read” is that you create a list of the categories of books you most like to read. Create new categories for things that don’t fit.  Then as you go along combine categories where the numbers of books remain just a few. Figure out if there are any categories that are particularly relevant to your work or other interests. And don’t worry if it looks nothing like your friends. That’s what makes it interesting!

Goodreads Recent Changes

Goodreads so you finishedMany of you who are book lovers use Goodreads to catalog your books, track what your friends are reading, and read reviews of books you might be interested in. There are currently 55 million Goodreads members and 1.5 billion books added to the site. I’ve been on Goodreads since 2011, and it was the “gateway drug” that got me into book reviewing and blogging.

This is kind of an update on some of the recent changes, at least the ones that have noticed. One that started turning up in my email inbox recently was that whenever I finished a book Goodreads sends an email that shows the book, my rating, and links to my review. Not shown on the screen capture above is that it also allows me to see any friends who are reading the book, their reviews, and the reviews of other Goodreads members. It allows me to go to the Goodreads author page, even dead ones (there is one for Gerard Manley Hopkins which I can follow). It also allows me to like and comment on friends activity, and even to post a question about the book. What I discovered is that about the time Goodreads introduced this feature, I saw an uptick in likes and comments on my reviewed books, even ones I reviewed in the past. This seems like a good change that makes Goodreads more interactive.

A second change that  Goodreads has begun is “Goodreads Deals” emails and “Sponsored Books” on the updates feed (on the phone app). The “deals” update is just for e-books but surprisingly does provide options (depending on the book) for Google books, Apple iBooks, Nook, and Kobo, as well as Kindle (Goodreads is owned by Amazon). It is interesting that these deals are on e-books but there seems to be no similar approach with print media even though e-books have been waning in popularity. Still, I give Goodreads credit for not promoting only Amazon.

Not so with “Sponsored Books.” Here you have options for purchasing the book in whatever format you are interested in, but only from Amazon. There are also inserts of books that are “new” or “popular” which also direct one to the Amazon site.  So far, this only appears on updates on the Goodreads App, not on the website. It appears that you can indicate you are not interested in a particular “sponsored” book, but not these others, which are interspersed with friends’ updates. Rarely are any of these of interest to me. For some reason, who is reading the book often catches my eye and makes it of interest. The “recommendations” function is better, even if it often recommends books I’ve read but haven’t logged on Goodreads.

One thing with both of these changes is that they drive online purchasing, which of course is the interest of the online book seller behind this site. At least the page for each book on Goodreads offers the option of looking for the books in stores like Barnes and Noble, or through the IndieBound site at independent booksellers. One wonders if Goodreads will continue to do this in the future or direct potential buyers to their parent company more and more. This may be the point where those of us who think brick and mortar stores and local businesses are a cultural good should close our accounts. I hope it doesn’t come to that because there is so much I like about Goodreads (and, yes, I also am on LibraryThing).

One of the features I really like on the phone app is the ability to scan a book and add it to one or more of your shelves. It uses your phone’s camera and I just discovered that it not only works by scanning bar codes, but even by scanning the cover of the book. It will pop up options for your book which you can then add to your shelves. The cover scan worked on every book (a limited sample) I tested it on. This is much better than typing in a title and searching a list for your book. I only log books as I read them, but I could imagine going through my whole library in a relatively short period of time if I wanted to do this.

These are not the only changes on Goodreads. I’d be interested in what changes others who use Goodreads have seen and what you like or don’t like about them.


Why I’m Not Obsessed with My Goodreads Reading Challenge

Goodreads Recent Updates

My Goodreads Reading Challenge as of 5/18/17

I guess there is something to our nature as human beings that needs challenges. It could be losing weight. Or running a marathon in under three hours. Or getting 10,000 steps on your Fitbit. Those of us who are bibliophiles have our own challenges. And one of the most popular is the annual Goodreads Reading Challenge. This year, over 2 million people have set reading challenges for themselves. As of right now, their challenges add up to 94,585,110 books, or roughly 46 books a person. I’ve seen challenges anywhere between reading one book to hundreds. This year I set a goal of 110, five more than my goal last year. I do it mostly for the fun of seeing the goals of my friends. I always read more than my goal without really trying.

I’m writing about this today because of an amusing article in Bookriot titled “Why I’m Obsessed with My Goodreads Challenge Tracker.” I think for this writer (and apparently a number of commenters!) that this really is an obsession. Would you consider reading a bunch of children’s books, graphic novels and novellas at the end of the year just to make your challenge obsessive? Would you consider yourself an abject failure, a wipeout, if you got behind on your reading goal, or horror of horrors, finished the year short of your goal? Apparently this writer is far from alone.

I guess there is one simple reason why I do not obsess over my challenge. And that is that, short of an emergency, I set a goal that I will reach with time to spare, given my reading habits. That way I get to enjoy all those good feelings the writer describes of seeing her list of completed challenges and being ahead on the current one. Shouldn’t something connected with your favorite activity make you feel even better about it?And by most standards 110 books (a bit over two a week) is a goodly number of books. Some think I’m crazy that I read that many.

I don’t like the idea of worrying that I’ll fall behind if I sink my teeth into a really long history or Russian novel. It’s nice to have some slack if other things rise to greater importance and I have to set aside my books.

Jesus of Nazareth once said that we should be careful in trying to remove a speck from someone else’s eye while we have a log in our own. As I thought about this, it occurred to me that I may have book-related obsessions that make the writer’s look benign.

Probably one of the biggest is simply keeping up with my “to be read” piles, or for that matter, the “to be reviewed” pile. I swear that when I turn out the lights at night, they multiply! Actually it is a case of requesting more interesting books to review from various publishers than I should. I probably shouldn’t buy any. That, as much as anything accounts for reaching reading goals–it is not the goal, but the burgeoning TBR pile that can sometimes lead to obsessive reading (“gotta get through this–it’s been three months since the publisher sent it on my request!”).

Objectively, I haven’t done too badly with this, reviewing 30 books that were advance review copies so far this year. It’s fun when a new book to review comes in the mail–until you add it to the pile and queue it with the others and have that realization that it will be a while until you read it unless you read faster! Funny how you don’t think of that when you are reading the description of a book you are considering requesting! Then the rationale is, “that looks like an important book, I’ll fit it in somewhere!”

Well, I think all I’ve accomplished here is to demonstrate that booknerds are indeed quirky people. But you already probably knew that, whether you are a booknerd or not. But to paraphrase my favorite teacher–“let him (or her) without obsessions cast the first stone!”



First Impressions of LibraryThing


About a month ago I took the plunge and set up a LibraryThing account. Accounts are free for the first 200 books you catalogue on LibraryThing. For larger collections, you will need to pay $10 a year or $25 for life. Obviously, this is different from GoodReads, which is free, no matter how many books you have.

The name of this site and the term cataloging suggests the big distinction between GoodReads and this site. GoodReads is a social media site that allows people to share books they are reading or have read with their friends. Incidentally, it does allow you some capability to catalogue your books by categories you make up. LibraryThing is much more library based, allowing you to catalogue your books, and even access cataloging information used by librarians.

Let me give you a quick tour. Once you’ve set up your account, the first page you will visit is “Home” which is also your “Dashboard”. In the left column you can go to “recent news” “about you” and “discover”. From your Dashboard, you can add books, or import books from other sites like GoodReads and Shelfari (I haven’t tried that yet because I will then need to be a paying customer). You can edit your profile and add pictures. And you can access groups and forums, which, unlike many on GoodReads, seem quite active. Below this is information about your books, images of your most recently added books, your collections and tags, and automatic recommendations of books you might like based on yours, as well as member recommendations of other books similar to a book you’ve both read. Then there are conversation topics, local events for your area, and my favorites: authors who were born or died on this day.

If you click on a book you have added, it will take you to a page chock full of information about the book. You can see how many members have it, how popular it is, links to various sites that sell the book, including free sites. You can rate the book, add a review, put it in different collections, and tag it. The page provides a word cloud of popular tags. You can see who else has it, get recommendations of other books you might like, read other member reviews and extensive information about the book from publication date, to characters, places, awards, epigraphs, and quotes and book descriptions.

Perhaps the most fascinating page is the “Zeitgeist” page, subtitled “more information than your require.” For example, at the time this post was written, they had 2,052,484 members. eandino2012 has the largest library with 81,313 books. The Hunger Games is their most reviewed book with 2,930 reviews, and J.K. Rowling their top author. Their most prolific reviewer is “bluetyson” with 35,779 reviews (and you thought I reviewed a lot of books!).

Most recently, they’ve set up the ability through TinyCat to create a true library catalogue of your books that works with LibraryThing. It is free to LibraryThing members to use for personal use, as opposed to a public library. It is designed for small libraries, like what most of us have. Signup is at which may be accessed from your dashboard on LibraryThing.

My overall sense is that LibraryThing is geekier than the more socially-oriented GoodReads but has far more cataloging capabilities and connections to so many other book and library-related resources. I haven’t decided yet if I will plunk down for a membership, but I only have 21 books on the site so far. I have to admit that I’ve had lots of fun poking around the site, with lots more yet to explore and try out.

Tomorrow, I will do a post on the genius behind LibraryThing, Tim Spalding.


So Where Do You Find Those Books You Review?

Someone asked this question on a recent post, and I don’t think I’ve ever talked about this directly.  Finding books that interest me has never been a problem, in one sense. Finding time to read all the books I’m interested in is probably the challenge–and keeping up with other important things in life. But learning about my sources might be interesting for others, so here goes:

1. My most tried and true way of finding books is simply the local second hand bookstore (in our case, Half Price Books, of which there are several outlets in my home town). Often I do not go there looking for a particular book. My usual practice is that I have several sections (science, fiction, history, and religion) in which I particularly look. I also check out the bargain section–I’ve made some great finds of books I was interested in that I picked up for a song.

2. Of course, these trips are supplemented from time to time with library book sales and visits to other book stores.

3. I also attend some conferences related to my work. There is often a book table with books related to the conference theme and our broader work. Many of the academically oriented books, and those on higher education come from these book tables.

4. The organization I work with has a publishing house, InterVarsity Press. You may notice that a fair number of the books reviewed here come from them. We have the option to purchase new releases at a steep discount, and receive complimentary copies of some books related to collegiate ministry. I read these books because they deal with issues I’m interested in, often quite well. When that’s not the case, I feel free to say so. I am paying for most of those books, even if they are at discount!

5. Some of my books are e-books and I learn of these through three sources: Amazon via their Kindle Daily Deal emails, BookBub, which also emails about daily deals, and NetGalley, which is a website where bona fide book reviewers (in print or on blogs) can request e-galleys of new releases in exchange for posting reviews not only on their own sites but on NetGalley’s site, which provides feedback to publishers. Big danger here is that in the ease of downloading to a reader, you will acquire far more than you can read.

6. I follow reviews of others on Goodreads, in Books and Culture, the New York Times Book Review, First Things, and other periodicals that include reviews. Hearts and Minds Books “Booknotes” is another great source. I often look more at reviews than articles in some journals. Then I keep an eye out for a good deal on the books I’m interested in.

7. One of the things I’ve begun doing is requesting review copies of books I’m interested in reading and reviewing. Review copies are furnished at no cost but involve the commitment to read and review the book often within a 30 to 60 day period, send a copy of the review to the publisher that they can re-post, and to post a review on commercial media like Amazon. So you need to be a legit reviewer with a review platform like a blog. I suggest being sparing in your requests so that you can honor your commitment to review the book in a timely fashion.

8. Occasionally a book will be an “assigned” reading for work purposes. My usual reaction is, “Oh boy–I can even justify reading as a work-related activity!

9. Every so often, I stop by our local library. They have a section with their new acquisitions and this is one more way to learn about recent publications in areas of interest.

10. Finally, there are those books friends suggest or even give you and tell you you “HAVE” to read. I will if I’m interested. My son is a source of a number of these, and thankfully, he knows enough about my propensities to buy stuff that I actually AM interested in!

So there it is. Those are some of the ways I find out about books, and find the books I review. As I said, this has never been a problem in my “bookish” world. But maybe some of these ideas will connect you with new sources of learning about good books. Hopefully, it doesn’t open up new avenues of temptation!


Reading Better in 2015

"Mark Zuckerberg at the 37th G8 Summit in Deauville 018 v1" by Guillaume Paumier - Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

“Mark Zuckerberg at the 37th G8 Summit in Deauville 018 v1” by Guillaume Paumier – Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –

“Reading more” seems to be one of those resolutions people are making right now. Perhaps the most famous to do so is Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who wants to read 26 books “with an emphasis on learning about different cultures, beliefs, histories and technologies” (according to this article on Mashable). Mark would like us to read along with him. He’s set up a Facebook page where he is posting the books he is reading and hosting moderated discussions of the book. Based on the first title he has selected, it appears he won’t be reading fluff! (I understand that the book he chose, The End of Power, by Moses Naim, has spiked in sales since Zuckerberg chose it.)

I think this is great! I love the idea of high profile people encouraging reading, sharing what they read, and encouraging the rest of us to join them.   Zuckerberg is joining tech leader Bill Gates, who  has long been know for reading good stuff and sharing it with us. You can find reviews of what he has been reading on his blog. I discovered in checking out his blog that there are two of us on the planet who have actually read Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century!

One thing I’m afraid of is that “reading more” will go the way of “exercising more” and “eating less”. That is, we look back at wistfully at the end of the year and say, “maybe next year.” What I want to recommend instead is “reading better”. I’m convinced that when we read better, we may read more. But the numbers of books matter less than having your life enriched and world enlarged by the books you read. Here are my ideas for “reading better.”

1. Read as you can, not as you can’t. It may be that you are an active person who can’t sit still and read for more than 15 minutes at a time. If you read 15 minutes a day, you can read 15 average size books in a year. Trying to read when you really want to be doing something else is miserable and isn’t going to encourage you to read at all, let alone more or better.

2. Read when you can give your attention to what you are reading and enter into the world of the book. Different books need different levels of attention. “Beach reads” take less attention than a serious book on climate change or a Tolstoy novel. Attempting to read a book when you can’t give it the attention it requires is just an exercise in frustration.

3. On a related note, I don’t recommend reading on a phone or tablet that has other applications running besides your reader. If we see we have mail or a text, we are already distracted. If we read them, our reading becomes disconnected.

4. Read what interests you, not what you think you “should” read. I know nothing that will put you off of reading more quickly that trying to trudge through a book that you really don’t like because someone thinks that all the cool people should read that book! One way to find books you might like is to read is to follow reviewers who seem to have similar takes on books you’ve liked.

5. If you find people with similar interests, forming a book group can not only help you read more but the discussions will take you more deeply into the book as you hear others “take” on the book. One book group I’m in has wrestled through some good but challenging books and helped each other make sense of books I’d probably have given up reading alone.

6. Reflect on what you read. Maybe it means keeping a “commonplace book” to jot down quotes you like. I started writing reviews to reflect on and remember what I read. Goodreads is a great place to do this and has the added benefits of discovering what your friends are reading and think of what they’ve read.

reading challenge7. While I’m talking about Goodreads, they have this thing called the “Reading Challenge”. Set goals that are realistic. Zuckerberg’s is a book every two weeks. More is not better. Better is better. Compulsively reading to reach a goal is not better. Choosing short, easy to read books just so you can “catch up” seems beside the point.

8. Read at least one book that differs from what you usually read. If you are a die-hard liberal, read a thoughtful conservative writer, and vice versa. If all your books are written by Americans, read something by an author from a different country, preferably a non-Western country. If you are religious (or not!), read something outside your tradition, or even something from another religion. I’ve found this both strengthens my own beliefs and enlarges my understanding of the world.

9. Read one intellectually challenging book on a topic you care about deeply . I’m not suggesting you read intellectually challenging books that hold no interest for you. I love singing and sing in a choral group but never had any formal training. Reading about music theory has helped me begin to appreciate more deeply what is going on in the music I sing which feeds my love for it.

10. Read something just for fun. I read a baseball book in the summer of each year. No profound reason except that I like baseball–and there are some great baseball writers out there and some great writers who are baseball fans.

I’d love to hear your ideas about reading better!

Books for the Bibliophile in Your Life

People in my family have this dilemma. Given how many books I have and read, it is hard for them to know what to buy me short of asking.

That may be one way of finding out. If you don’t want to give yourself away the trick is being indirect, and probably far enough away from the time you are giving the gift that they might not remember. Asking them about what they’ve been reading or what kinds of things they like to read might give you some clues of genres to look in. Family members of the person may be of help if they know the person’s habits and don’t mind that they are a bibliophile!

If you have access, you can always try snooping around their homes and seeing what books they have. The challenge here, of course, is remembering what they have, and more importantly, recognizing what they don’t have, and all of this without being obvious. If you are a fellow bibliophile, they will totally get your book-snooping. Chances are they do the same at your house!

Once you have an idea of genre or genres in which you are looking, get some help. A good bookseller is a great resource at this point. In many cases, what you probably want are new titles that your friend may not yet have acquired, particularly if they like to wait to pick them up in second hand shops, a habit of many of us bibliophiles. They can point you to recent releases, particularly ones that have gotten a lot of notice or good reviews. This probably won’t be as cheap as Amazon, but this kind of service is worth extra, particularly if it is offered by an indie bookseller!

There are some indie booksellers that focus on particular genres. Friends who want to buy me theological books, for example, might not get much help at the local B & N. But if you contacted Hearts & Minds Books (probably via the web) I bet you can find something (and the bookseller sort of knows me!). There are stores around for everything from mysteries to feminist literature. You may have to check online–they may not be in your hometown.

There is some help online as well. If you have purchased on Amazon, you know you can create a wish list. Did you know you can also look up the wish lists of your friends? Of course, this presumes that they have created a wish list and it is current and that their name is not really common, like “John Smith”. To do this, just go to your wish list and you will see a box in the upper right hand corner that says, “Find Someone’s Wish List.”

You might also consider social media. If the person is a Facebook friend, their profile may show what books they have read. If they are on Goodreads (and you are) you can see what books they’ve read by genres and their favorite genres (or shelves). Some users also have a “wishlist” shelf. You can also look at their top-rated books and click on the book which takes you to the Goodreads page for that book and look in the upper right corner at the “Readers Also Enjoyed” recommendations. While Goodreads provides recommendations for books you might like based on what you’ve read, they don’t yet do this for your friends (I’ve suggested it!).

My son wins the award for the best book gift. For my birthday, he bought me A Heritage to Share: A Bicentennial History of Youngstown and Mahoning County, Ohio. He knew I was blogging on Youngstown because I grew up there and like all things history. He went to Acorn Bookshop here in town and found this book. Little did he know that I had been in there and had seriously considered buying it, had leafed through it, and put it on my mental “sometime” list but passed up the temptation.

How have you figured out what books to buy your bibliophile friends?


A Problem I’ve Not Had

Actually there are probably a number of them. But the one I have in mind here is reading slumps. It occurred to me to write about this because I came across an article recently in Bookriot titled “5 Tips For Getting Out of a Reading Slump.” It has some good suggestions including reading an old favorite, finding a new book by a favorite author, going to the library, which allows you to try out a book and set it aside if you don’t like it, planning out a reading day filled with all your favorite things, including, hopefully a book or two, and going digital if you have not. This is probably great advice–I can’t really say because I’ve never been there.

It’s probably something in the way I’m wired but I can’t imagine being in a reading slump. I don’t say that boastfully because I don’t think there is anything special about being a bibliophile–weird maybe, but not special! My hunch is that slumps might connect to those emotional undulations many of us go through, or they might simply relate to a season of life where it is hard to find the time and energy to sit down with a book. It would seem to me that there is no great guilt attached to this. I’d say, read as you can, not as you can’t. But take this with a grain of salt–I’ve never had to get out of a reading slump, so what do I really know?

The closest I’ve gotten are periods where I’m either mentally distracted or simply physically tired and the words don’t register. Then, it is probably better for me to pray, do some yard work, take a nap, or get a good night’s sleep. Most of the time, that does it for me, and if it doesn’t, the real issue is usually somewhere else in my life, and inattentiveness in reading is just a symptom. Sometimes, I’m just doing enough “brain work” in other areas that I don’t need to do this in my reading. Then its time for something more light-hearted–a good mystery, a Teddy Roosevelt biography, or even a children’s story.

A more interesting question for me is, what keeps me hungry for the next book? A few things come to mind:

  • The consciousness that there are “so many books and so little time.” There are so many things I’d like to read, whether it is in fiction, theology, history, or science that it always seems incredibly easy to find the next book.
  • I move in physical and virtual communities where people often are talking about books. Whether it is someone else’s Goodreads reviews, a book mentioned in a meeting by a colleague, or a New York Times review, I keep hearing about interesting books. I guess hanging out in bookish circles sustains a bookish habit.
  • In my work, I often encounter interesting issues or intellectual challenges that pique my interest. Often these have to do with real people asking sincere questions or facing life issues. Sometimes, just listening is enough but sometimes consulting with better minds than mine is helpful!
  • Prowling bookstores and libraries restocks my mental list of interesting books. I may not have time right now for that book, but the next time I see it, particularly if I find it at a bargain (which is often the case if I wait), I may be ready to read it.
  • Talking or writing about the books you read and interacting with others makes reading more fun and less solitary. For some, a reading group is a great way to get around to reading the books one wants to read, if others want to read them as well. Or you may discover books and authors you never knew you’d like.

I suspect some of these things may be helpful for the slumping reader, or simply the reader who wants to find more time to read. But as I said, I may not be the best to ask as this is a problem I’ve not had.

Have you ever struggled with reading slumps? What has been helpful to you?


Keeping a List of Books Read (and What This Says About Us)

Rebecca Mead recently published a delightful article in The New Yorker titled “The Pleasure of Reading to Impress Yourself.” She describes unearthing an old notebook in which she recorded the books she had read for several during the 1980s. What she particularly noticed was how heavily it was weighted toward classics of English literature and the pleasure derived from not only having read these books but being pleased with oneself as becoming “a well-read person.”

True confessions time. I’ve kept a list of books I’ve read since 1993, when a colleague made a remark about being deliberate in our choices of good literature since “there are so many books and so little time” and how he recorded not only the books he read but a summary of those books and his response. So I began keeping a list which I’ve kept up to this day, now numbering over 1600 books. Back around 2008, I started supplementing this with reviews posted on an app on Facebook, and when I had problems with this because of one of Facebook’s interminable changes, I started posting those reviews on Goodreads in late 2011, and linking them to this blog, which I began last year. Here was my list from 1993:

1993 Reading List

My 1993 Reading List (click to enlarge)

What strikes me as I look back on this list is that my reading choices were probably driven by a similar motivation–not only to read for information or pleasure but to have the pleasure of being impressed with being well-read.  I remember that it was around this time that I picked up an edition of Clifton Fadiman’s The New Lifetime Reading Plan and started looking for books that I didn’t have. I notice on the list for that year reading Dickens, Dreiser, Forster, Hardy, and both The Iliad and The Odyssey by Homer.

It was probably a few years later that I supplemented Fadiman with Eugene Peterson’s book, Take and Read (I just found it on my list for 1996), focusing on spiritual reading. But even in 1993, I noticed taking on Calvin’s Institutes, Newman’s Idea of a University (which I re-read last year) and books by Lewis and Chesterton.

I also noticed that then as now, I was reading lots of history and biographies, including a biography of Lawrence of Arabia, another of Teddy Roosevelt, a history of the battle of Antietam, Landscape Turned Red, and more.

I’m reminded of the good memory of reading Laura Ingalls Wilder’s A Long Winter as a family as the winter of 1993-94 began as well as Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time.

I see some of the books I read for issues we were wrestling with then and (and now) including I Suffer Not a Woman on women in the church and books on race by Cornel West and Perkins and Rice.

As I reflect on this list, I’m struck over and over by the continuity of reading interests, and even authors. I see a book on this list by Jaroslav Pelikan, and I just recently completed another book by this author. Likewise, I am currenly reading James Davison Hunter’s To Change the World. I note that I read his book Culture Wars in 1993. Of course authors like Lewis and Chesterton turn up on my lists again and again, as do authors like Dickens and Hardy. I also seem fascinated with books on Winston Churchill and Teddy Roosevelt. Sometimes I give an author a second chance. I thought Gabriel Garcia Marquez kind of strange in 1993. I still thought he was kind of odd when I read him last year, when I discovered that either people absolutely love his stuff, or just don’t get him–I confess I’m in the latter category.

It is fascinating to me how our book lists, if we keep them, serve as a kind of narrative of our lives, and a window into the things that matter to us. These days, I’m not so much into following book lists which, when transferred to my books read, leave me impressed with myself. My book choices reflect curiosity, sometimes serendipity, and sometimes simply returning to authors that have given me pleasure and insight in the past. But they also often remind me where I was when I read a particular book or who I was reading it with as is the case of some from our Dead Theologians reading group, which has met since the late 90’s.

So while it may seem compulsive (which my wife says I can be!) my book lists remind me not only of the books I’ve read but the events of life associated with these. Some evening soon, I need to just sit down with the list and take a walk down memory lane.

Do you keep a reading list or post the books you’ve read on something like Goodreads? What has keeping such lists meant for you?