This Sunday Salon post is made up of more notes for my talk next Tuesday:
WHAT do we read?
Consider what you have in the smallest chosen library. A company of the wisest and wittiest men that could be picked out of all civil countries, in a 1000 years, have set in best order the results of their learning and wisdom. The men themselves were hid and inaccessible, solitary, impatient of interruption, fenced by etiquette; but the thought which they did not uncover to their bosom friend is here written out in transparent words to us, the strangers of another age.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.
Jorge Luis Borges
1. Read the classics.
From C.S. Lewis’s Introduction to Athanasius’ On the Incarnation
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.
Great Books of the Christian Tradition and Other Books Which Have Shaped Our World by Terry Glaspey. Glaspey lists books by era and gives a little information about each one. His list is not exhaustive, but it does include non-Christian authors as well as the great Christians.
The Well-Educated Mind: A Guide to the Classical Education Education You Never Had by Susan Wise Bauer. Ms. Bauer’s book is marketed for and aimed toward homeschoolers, but it’s perfect for any autodidact. The books are listed by genre: the novel, autobiography and memoir, history, drama, and poetry.
Who Should We Then Read? by Jan Bloom. I got this title from Carmon’s list here. I haven’t seen it, but it sounds good.
Reading Between the Lines: A Christian Guide to Literature by Gene Edward Veith, Jr. This one is not so much a list of what to read as a guide to how to read discerningly.
Books Children Love: A Guide to the Best in Children’s Literature by Elizabeth Wilson, foreword by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay. I used to have a copy of this book, I think. As I remember, it’s a list by grade level of the best in children’s literature.
Love Your God With All Your Mind: The Role of Reason in the Life of the Soul by J.P. Moreland. I just found this one at the church library today, but it looks like a fantastic case for Christian intellectual endeavor. And it has a list at the end of books that are useful as introductions to various fields including ethics, economics, education, theology, history, journalism, law, literature, mathematics, psychology, mostly from a Christian perspective.
In science, read by preference the newest works.
In literature, read the oldest.
The classics are always modern.
~ Lord Edward Lytton
2. Read the books that are shaping the minds of our culture.
What is the most popular fantasy book of the past ten years?
Have any of you read Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code?
Who’s heard of Stephenie Meyer? Have you read her books?
I don’t enjoy a lot of modern literary fiction because I find that most of what’s been produced in the twentieth century and beyond is full of existential angst and hopelessness, but I make myself read some because it’s speaking to the people in our culture, the people to whom I am a witness of God’s truth, whether it speaks to me or not.
“If you still don’t like a book after slogging through the first 50 pages, set it aside. If you’re more than 50 years old, subtract your age from 100 and only grant it that many pages.” —Nancy Pearl
3. Read what you enjoy.
I like fiction. I learn from fiction. Next to fiction, I like stories of real people, biographies and history and memoir, Make yourself try different genres, different eras of literature, kinds of writing that are new to you. But if you don’t enjoy them, don’t finish. The 50 page rule is not a bad thing. Life is short.
4. Use booklists and blogs and book reviews and catalogs.
In addition to the guides above, try these assorted booklists and reading guides:
Picture Book Preschool. Picture Book Preschool is a preschool curriculum by Sherry Early based on picture books that she has been reading to her children for the past twelve years.
100 Best Fiction Books of All Time from Semicolon.
1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die by Peter Boxall. Arukiyomi’s 1001 Books spreadsheet lists the 1001 books and gives you a way to record what you’ve read and calculate how many books you should read per year to finish the list.
Book Lust by Nancy Pearl.
Book Crush by Nancy Pearl.
WORLD Magazine. WORLD has lots of book reviews, book columns, author interviews, etc.
Sonlight catalog for a list of quality children’s books, whether or not you use their curriculum.
Veritas Press catalog. Ditto the Sonlight blurb.
Lots of great blogs feature book reviews and book talk. Check out my sidebar under Book Blogs or Kid’s Lit. Or try the links found at the Saturday Review featured each Saturday here at Semicolon.
Quick unrelated link: Joel Belz of WORLD magazine says that real winner of tonight’s townhall meeting (Civic Forum on the Presidency) at Saddleback Church (Rick Warren’s church) was Pastor Rick who proved himself to be an able interviewer. I’ll be interested to read a more detailed account of the questions and answers.
And for more reading suggestions the Carnival of Children’s Literature, Beach Edition for August, is up at Chicken Spaghetti.