How do you decide what to read? Do you scan the latest bestseller lists? Do you have a library of unread books where you just close your eyes and reach for one? Does a friend inspire you to read the great book they just finished?
I had a lot of time to ponder this question when I was supervising a test at school. I realized, after having moved among the students with nothing to occupy my mind for several hours, that I don’t have a very good way of choosing my next book.
I love to browse physical shelves of books, touch the books, open the covers and flip through them. So, sitting on my book shelves I have a load of random books that are a result of “impulse buying”: they caught my eye and ignited my curiosity (and were too good of a deal to pass up!). I also love to browse online bookstores and making wish lists. It’s exciting to me how many different kinds of texts exist, and I want to read so many of them. And that’s how I’ve been choosing what to read next.
But I just ran across my very old list of books that includes classics, award-winners and recommendations by friends, the media, the church, the library or websites I visit. I forgot about my Books to Read List because I stopped carrying it in my wallet. It got too long (to get all the titles typed on both sides of a single sheet of paper, which could fold to fit in my wallet, it had to be a 9-point font), and I didn’t seem to have much time to read anyway. Even though the books I look at every day at home look like excellent books, I resolved that I was going to return to my list, as it is far less impulsive.
I generally try to read books that will have eternal value, and change me for the better. I think fiction affects me more than non-fiction, but it has to be well-written fiction. Classic novels seem trustworthy choices for quality fiction, and when I run across references to classic novels that I haven’t read, it bothers me to be missing so many stories that have stood the test of time for hundreds of years. So a section of my Books to Read List developed by browsing lists of the best books, such as the ones I found in the Appendix of James Wood’s book How Fiction Works, or an online list, such as Open Culture’s list of “The 10 Greatest Books Ever, According to 125 Top Authors”. I take great pleasure in the rare times I can tick off another one from this list of distinguished, admired books from authors around the world.
So what to read this summer? One fiction book from my Books to Read List is Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. I have planned to read it ever since my son read and discussed it with me when he was in junior high school (about fifteen years ago). Not only that, the movie is out, and I don’t want to watch the movie until I’ve read the book, so the pressure’s on. Les Miserables is on the top of my fiction list. I have recently started reading it on my Kindle, and with my larger font preference, I seem to be making slow progress! I get a bit overwhelmed when reading a huge book, but am staying interested.
For my next non-fiction book, I’m reading a book recommended to me by a friend, What are You Afraid Of? by David Jeremiah, with the hope of taking a frank look at my fears, and my faith. I’ve checked it out of the library and am about a fifth the way through it. So far, it is practical and straightforward yet empathetic.
What are at the top of your lists? What is the best book you’ve ever read? I’d love to read your comments.