Alan Jacobs, in The Pleasures Of Reading In An Age Of Distraction makes a case against reading goals, speed-reading, and the rush to have read. I nodded reading all that but also thinking about my reading list and why I keep and post it publicly.
I keep a reading list in part because my memory is all too fallible. I've read books twice because seeing the book again I've found it terribly interesting I dig in, dogged by a feeling of familiarity, but not giving into it for a few hundred pages in. This doesn't happen often, but more than once is enough.
Often, I half recall some idea, character, scene, or some such and want to revisit it. This happened this summer when I remembered a cogent argument about unions but couldn't remember where it was from. Going over my list, I found Richard Russo's The Identity Thief and remembered him discussing summer work alongside his father. I found the book, reread that section, and felt all kinds of better.
Beyond memory, I like knowing how many books I've read in a year though I have no goal. The number simply pushes me toward a habit of mind, a habit of reading. I'm on my fifty-ninth book of the year, a number meaningless on any scale, but useful to me. It's not objective since two of those books were single essays packaged as books, two were graphic novels, and seven or eight were young-adult books. Someone else's fifty-nine books would be more or fewer pages and that couldn't matter less.
But why publish the list on the web?
As a kid I was hooked on end-of-the-year TV shows that rewound the news, songs, movies, and deaths of the year. I didn't care about the ball drop but I was all over the year in review. There aren't enough of those kinds of shows any more. There are, however, plenty of reading lists marking the turn of the calendar. Major news outlets and magazines come out with best-of-the-year lists, but I'm more into the blogs on which individuals list their favorite books, the ones they are still thinking about. I eat those lists up and so I wanted one of my own. I hope that it proves interesting to someone.
My list is nothing spectacular save for one thing: it is my reading list and a peak inside my brain. This is where I'm back to Alan Jacobs's "commitment to one dominant, overarching, nearly definitive principle for reading: Read at Whim" (Pleasures, 15). I read what interests me and one thing leads to another. There's a lot of nonfiction on my list because that's what I tend to favor. There is nocourse of study there because I don't read to elevate myself though I like to read things from which I will learn. Luckily, I can learn from just about any book.
I'm a better man when I'm reading and keeping a reading list. It's the act of reading that does it. Reading helps me reflect, consider others, and find solitude. I've been known to take the solitude too far, withdrawing from family and work in favor of some written world, but more often than not reading makes me a better person.
What have you been reading? Leave a comment below with your reading list, top five, or current book. Other than a book, I can't think of anything I would rather read.