Directed Reading

Author Tayari Jones suggests a plan for “directed reading,” reading not just more books but more of a variety of books. Here are her suggestions and what I did last year in relation to her list:

TWO BOOKS by international authors, written in English, NOT set in the U.S.A.
If books by British authors count, I’m fine for this one. If not, I’m in trouble. I did read books set in Indonesia, Botswana, Antarctica, Norway, India, China, Afghanistan, Sudan, Scotland, and England. Oh, how about Nectar in a Sieve by Markandaya?

ONE BOOK that is translated into English
Not a one on my list. Probably this would be a good idea. Any suggestions?

THREE BOOKS from small presses
Other than maybe the ones I reviewed for Mind and Media, I doubt if any of my books from last year fall into this category. Again any suggestions?

TWO BOOKS of non-fiction (excluding memoir)
I read several non-fiction books. No problem.

ONE Over-hyped book by an author whose success I resent
I’m NOT reading The DaVinci Code no matter how many copies it sells. Nor am I interested in Left Behind. Any other suggestions? I’m not sure I need this category. Maybe if I were a writer like Jones, I’d want to analyze and see what made those books so popular.

TWO of the “classics” that I never got around to reading
I re-read some classics last year, but didn’t read any for the first time. I want to read Kristin Lavransdattir this year.

ONE BOOK that receives a TERRIBLE review in a major publication
I don’t read enough reviews in major publications to know if anything I’ve read got slammed.

TWO BOOKS of poetry by people I don’t know.
Ouch, I don’t usually read books of poetry. I read poems, but not books of poetry.

ONE avant-garde or experimental title.
Nope. I’m not an experimental or avant-garde girl. Maybe I’ll read some manga this year. Is that cutting-edge or just juvenile?

TWO short-story collections
I must admit that I don’t care for short stories. I never have. They’re too short. Kate, however, likes short stories. Don’t go by me; listen to her. Maybe I’ll try again.

ONE novel set at least two-hundred years ago
The Shakespeare Stealer by Gary Blackwood, Pagan’s Crusade by Catherine Jinks, Blood and Judgment by Lars Walker, Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett, and several more.

ONE novel set at least two-hundred years in the future
Children of Men by PD James and Airborn by Kenneth Oppel are both set in the future, but not 200 years into the future.

ONE novel written at least two-hundred years ago
Gulliver’s Travels is surprisingly the only book I read last year that was written that long ago. (That would be before 1805.)

TWO plays
Yes, I did read some plays for the American Literature discussion group I was teaching last year, but I didn’t put them on my list.

ONE offering by the most recent Nobel Laureate
Nobel Prize for Literature 2004: Elfriede Jelinek
Nobel Prize for Literature 2005: Harold Pinter
I have read a couple of plays by Pinter, courtesy of a modern theater class I took in college. I don’t think I’ll revisit Mr. Pinter’s world anytime soon.

ONE Young Adult Novel
No problem. I like YA novels. At least, I like the ones I like. Best YA novel I read last year: The Flame Tree by Richard Lewis.

ONE book on craft.
I assume this means a book on writing since Ms. Jones is a writer. I’ve got that covered, too. I read Invisible Child by Katherine Paterson and Blog by Hugh Hewitt. So I read about my craft and hers.

Edward Champion has a 75 book challenge and some added category suggestions: “I would add the following ideals: a mystery book, a science fiction book, a “chick lit” book, a book written for popular audiences (We don’t have to be literary snobs all the time, do we? Besides it helps to know what everyday people are reading from time to time.), a book that is at least 800 pages, a book that is less than 100 pages, a children’s book, a substantial percentage of books written by women and minorities, a memoir written by or about a truly whacked out individual, a lengthy nonfiction book about a subject I know absolutely nothing about, a microhistory, et al.]”

Any other ideas? How do you go about trying to broaden your reading horizons? Or do you? I think that I need to read more old stuff, a la the old CS Lewis suggestion:

“It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones.
Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books.”

Read Lewis’s entire essay, Introduction to Athanasius on the Incarnation, courtesy of Jollyblogger
I was led into this discussion by Dani at A Work in Progress and Susan at Pages Turned. Blame them.

5 thoughts on “Directed Reading

  1. From reading the list I found that I met most of the requirements last year merely from reading litblogs. That’s how I came to discover a small press (Godine), translated works and short stories. And that’s how I recently bought an experimental work (Monson’s “Other Electricities”).

  2. I’m not big on short stories either, but I did enjoy “Making It Up” by Penelope Lively. It’s a book of short stories based on the premise “What if I hand’t made that choice, broke up with that man, turned down that job?” The stories are fictional, but they are based on events in her life and how things might have turned out differently.

  3. I love your list! One small press book I am curious about is called MY SISTER’S CONTINENT. The press is Chiasmus. I’ve never heard of the press, or the author (Gina Frangelo) but I am so curious about it.

  4. I think Kristin Lavransdattar counts as a book in translation!

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