In the past week, I’ve read a biography of Gino Bartoli, the Italian cycling champion; two novellas by noir detective writer Dashiell Hammett; three books of poetry; a children’s novel; and a book about a mission project in Uganda.
It was a slow week for reading.
My earliest memory of reading is sitting next to my mother as she read Grimm’s Fairy Tales to me, a child’s reading edition originally published in the 1920s. The story that stood out was “Hansel and Gretel,” with the children getting lost in the woods because the birds ate the bread crumbs they left for a trail. I believe I was three.
I still have the book, an oversized volume with a green cover and considerably “child-worn,” including my Crayola drawings on the inside covers.
My next memory of reading was when I was six, pedaling my bike to the TG&Y dime store, and paying fifty-nine cents for Trixie Belden and the Secret of the Mansion, complete with a hidden treasure, a spooky old house, and a little boy bitten by a copperhead. Trixie Belden books were aimed at the nine- to-twelve-year-old market, but I was reading the books at six. I was into The Hardy Boys by seven.
In ninth grade, the school had the students tested for reading speed and comprehension. The tests were coordinated by the English teachers. My combined score was such that my teacher had trouble believing it and almost had me tested again.
Neither of my parents were voracious readers, but they did encourage me to read. I became something of the reading mutant in both my immediate and extended families. In school, my favorite classes were always English, and I had the benefit of a series of four great English teachers in high school.
My reading was and remains eclectic, with a heavy leaning toward serious fiction, poetry, and mysteries. But I love English history as well. And the history of the early church. And art. Children’s stories. And cycling.
Yes, it’s eclectic.
With the advent of the Internet and eBooks, my opportunities for reading have only increased. I’ve had to develop something of a strategy of reading, to make sure I read what I have to read, what I need to read, and what I want to read. This includes books, magazines, newspapers, blogs, the Bible, and online news sites.
First, I use an RSS (Really Simple Syndication) reader.
In the glory days of blogging (roughly 2000-2006), RSS readers proliferated like rabbits. The idea is simple: you give the reader the URL of the site you want to follow, and every time new content is posted on it, you get a notification in your reader with a short summary or introductory paragraph. Many RSS readers have disappeared – no one could figure out how to make money with them, even with advertising – but a few still are around. I use Feedly. It includes virtually all of the blogs and other online sites I follow (like this one, Charity Singleton Craig’s).
Second, I follow book reviews.
A favorite is the Wall Street Journal’s book review section on Saturdays. I’m reading a biography of T.S. Eliot right now, Young Eliot: From St. Louis to The Waste Land by Robert Crawford, after seeing the review in The Wall Street Journal. The book is more than living up to the positive review. Another source is the Englewood Review of Books. Radix Magazine publishes reviews in its print edition. Christianity Today publishes reviews in print and online. Semicolon Blog posts book reviews daily, and on Saturday invites readers to link their own reviews of what they’ve been reading. These are only a few of the possible sources.
Third, I’ve taught myself to be ruthless in my reading.
A book, whether fiction or non-fiction, requires an investment of time. If it’s badly written or edited, and I can usually tell by the second chapter, I set it aside. This has become more of a problem with eBooks, especially those published by authors who think they can edit their manuscripts themselves. I’ve published three books, and all three benefitted tremendously by having professional editors. The reader’s time is too precious to be wasted on bad writing and bad or lack of editing.
Fourth, I deliberately vary my reading.
Too much serious fiction and my head explodes. Too many mysteries and I feel like I’ve been on a diet of candy. Too much poetry and everything begins to sound alike and also rather bizarre. Too much nonfiction and I begin to equate facts with truth. I’ve been known occasionally to read a romance novel, and if I trust the author, I will actually read an Amish romance novel (truth be told, I trust only one author of Amish romances, and that’s Dale Cramer).
Fifth, I keep a record.
I keep a list of what I’ve read (and when), and I also “read with a journal.” I carry a journal with me just about everywhere. When I’m reading, I use it to jot notes, write down good quotes, and sometimes write out a response to what I’m reading or even an entire book review.
Reading has been a major part of my life. I love to read, but, like anything else, I have to manage it. These strategies and methods help, at least until the next time I visit Barnes & Noble.
Glynn Young, recently retired as the Social Media Team for a Fortune 500 company in the Midwest, has his own communications consulting business. He is the author of two novels, Dancing Priest (2011) and A Light Shining (2012), and the non-fiction book Poetry at Work (2013). He is also a contributing editor at Tweetspeak Poetry.