Some of you might have noticed that I recently added a new page to my site. Amy’s Bookshelf lists the books that I’m currently reading. People often wonder why I read so many books at one time. Let me take this opportunity to explain my book reading philosophy.
A long time ago, one of my favorite professors, Dr. Gregory Spencer of Westmont College, told me that he regularly reads 4 books at once. I can’t recall the categories that he uses, but it was something like 1 book for self or spiritual improvement, 1 book for fun reading, 1 book was for professional development, and the Bible. He always had one book in each of these categories, so he could be a more a more well rounded person and reader.
This strategy appealed to me because I often have a pile of books that I’m working on at any given time. For some reason, I am highly frustrated to focus on just one book at a time. Although I don’t agree with philosopher Slavoj Zijek on a lot of things, I do share this one principle with him. He spoke once at my graduate college, the University of Vermont, and told us that he is constantly reading. He takes a break from his reading by reading something different. I could fill a whole day that way. Yes, I realize that not everyone is wired like this.
I modified Dr. Spencer’s strategy to suit my own reading tastes. I’m not so methodical in my categories, but they generally work this way. I’m always plowing through the Bible each morning, that’s a given. Dan and I have a devotional that we’re reading every night, so that’s another book. I subscribe to several magazines that occupy my breakfast and lunchtime reading (books are too difficult to prop open while eating). These other categories are far more flexible, but this is how they typically look: a challenging piece of literature, a fluffy and fast paced fiction, a marriage or relationship building book, at least one but usually around 10 career related books (depending on how big my current writing project is), and a book on Christian growth or general Christian topics.
I don’t know how many books these add up to, but it’s typically a lot. I’ve shared my method with many other people, some of whom have tried to follow it. My students just smile politely and chuckle to themselves. Dan is one of the most recent to attempt it, but he gave it up after a couple weeks (bless his heart). He said that he just prefers to focus on one book at a time. He’s dutiful that way. He plows through each book faithfully, one after another. That would drive me insane. To each his own.
Maybe it’s just my multitasking nature or my high degree of impatience, but the multi-book method works best for me. I also appreciate how when reading many books at once, the books begin to blend a little, talking to each other. I’ll get some great ideas when I’m reading seemingly unconnected books, and they merge into one creative topic. From reading my posts on this blog, you can probably get a sense of the wide range of inspirations that lead to each blog entry. For example, I’m still plowing through the book of John, and I don’t expect to finish it anytime soon, since I’m making a point of going extremely slowly through it, verse by verse, word by word. As I read John, I’m reading all these other books on my list. They are all brewing together, mixing and fermenting and frothing around. Suddenly, I’ll find myself thinking about pruning my basil plant, and how that’s like the pruning that God’s doing in my life (John 15), which is tied with some of the spiritual growth books that I’m reading right now and the fiction book called Winter Wheat, which is all about agriculture and the harvest. You never know what connections you’ll make, or what connections God will make for you.
I’d love to hear about your reading habits. What do you read? What’s your strategy? Have you ever tried a multi-book reading plan?