A couple of weeks ago I tweeted that I was reading 10 books simultaneously. I started looking at my reading notes, and this seems to be a habit for me. I can sit down, read one book all the way through, and then move on. But looking at the different books I am reading right now teaches me something about different kinds of readings we do.
My bedside reading pile is unending. What kind of world is this where there are so many great books to read! Alas, I get to almost none of the books I set aside to read before I go to sleep, but it is a big part of my evening.
I’ve recently gone through a Tom Clancy spell—I’ve already repented here. Now at bedtime I’m reading J. Aleskandr Wootton’s The Eighth Square (2013), the second part of an indie fantasy trilogy. Wootton is also a guest blogger here on A Pilgrim in Narnia, and this trilogy is the ideal fantasy-lovers series.
I am also reading a literary superstar’s memoir, which is a little odd for me. It is That Summer in Paris by Canadian Morley Callaghan (1963). Morley Callaghan’s fiction is worth reading, but this book came to me by accident. I found it in a reject bin about the same time I watched the Woody Allen film Midnight in Paris (2011). I loved the film, but have a sneaking suspicion that Woody Allen stole the idea from Morley Callaghan. In vivid detail, Callaghan tells the story of his literary adolescence as he finds his way into friendships with Sinclair Lewis, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Ernest Hemmingway.
I am also reading, little by little, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Silmarillion (1977). It is like the Bible for Tolkien geeks (to quote a friend). And I keep a book of poetry by the bedside, which I take in little sips.
Part of what I do is research, and research means reading long, detailed books. In my world, those are usually books on philosophy, literature, theology, or history. The best thing to do with most of these books is to dig in and read whole chapters at a time. Sometimes I take 3-4 days and do nothing but read a single book. Other times I read a chapter a day.
In this cycle, I’m not reading anything really dense. I just finished The Cost of Discipleship (1937) by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (which could now move to “enrichment” category), and moved on to Paul Tillich, Against the Third Reich (1942-44). This is a series of radio broadcasts this German-American theologian broadcast into German during WWII. His goal was to provide thinking Germans with the motivation to resist the Nazis, which he argued had betrayed Germany and the world. Once I was a few chapters in, I moved this to my Happenstance pile (see below), and just finished it last night. I’ll pick up another Tillich book tomorrow, and then perhaps Karl Barth.
I am also reading J.R.R. Tolkien’s incomplete alliterative poem, The Fall of Arthur (c. 1934). The poem is only a small part of this book. The rest is made up of essays, commentary, and textual notes made by his son, Christopher Tolkien. I am in the nitty gritty of comparing manuscripts now, and have made quite a few notes.
Finally, I also took time to go through George MacDonald, Lilith (1895). Normally this would fit in my bedside reading, but it is an important work for understanding C.S. Lewis, so I did this as a sit down read. I will read it again this fall and make copious notes. It will be the same with Charles Williams’ “Chapel of the Thorn” (1912), which will be published soon. I read it once with a few notes, and looked at the manuscript at the Wade. Sometime later I will sit down, read it in more detail, and then do some writing on what I found.
Other than toilet reading, I don’t know if other folk have Happenstance Books. I try to have a book beside each of my reading places in the house, and one jammed between the seats of the car. For me, this has to be a specific kind of book. Madeleine L’Engle’s nonfiction works well for this. I finished Penguins and Golden Calves (2000) and have begun her Stone for a Pillow (2000). These are books I can pick up and read mid-paragraph or even midsentence without missing a beat. I am also reading C.S. Lewis’ George MacDonald anthology (1945) and the second volume of his Collected Letters (as part of reading Lewis chronologically).
Beside my study chair in my office, I also have Sir Thomas Malory, Le Morte D’Arthur (1485). Among my Happenstance Books are some older ones that I read a chapter at a time. I am only a quarter of the way through the first of two volumes, so that will take some time. My big struggle is not the language, but keeping track of all the characters.
Family reading is a precious thing to me. We listen to an audiobook in the car from time to time (see below), but I also read to my son every second night. We just finished The Fellowship of the Ring (1954) and took a break to read a story I had finished. Now we are reading Roger Lancelyn Green’s adaptation, King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table (1953). Hopefully we’ll begin The Two Towers (1954) soon, but we often get sidetracked by Shel Silverstein’s poetry or a cool book he brings home from school.
I’ve recently blogged on my love for audiobooks, and I typically have a book in my ear when I am in between things. Before my recent trip to Chicago, I finished Jack Kerouac, On the Road (1957), read by David Carradine. Next, I will listen to Perelandra (1943) as a way of rereading this beautiful book by C.S. Lewis.
On top of what’s on my iPod, my family also listens to the occasional book in the car. We are just about to finish Arthur Ransome, Swallows & Amazons (1930). I’m not sure what will be next for us!
I have trouble naming this category. These are the books that I am reading that are focussed on spiritual or personal renewal. I don’t call them “devotional” reading because all my reading is devotional reading—it has more to do with my attitude in reading than the kind of book, I think. But still, there are some books I read so I can be challenged to grow in ways I can’t predict until I’ve read the book. Many of these are thoughtful Christian spirituality books, but some of them are memoirs, creative nonfiction pieces, collections of poetry, and books on writing.
Right now a group I am part of is reading David Platt’s Radical (2010), and I am slowly going through St. Athananasius, On The Incarnation (c. 319 CE). This was translated by Sr. Penelope during WWII and is a real treat.
As I write this, I’m thinking of what will come next in his category. I have a hankering for Anne Lamott, Frederick Buechner, or more Dietrich Bonhoeffer. We’ll see.
There are other kinds of reading too. Skimming, scanning, fireside reading, campfire reading, summer beach reading, copy editing…. The list is endless. But these are the kinds of reading I do most often.
What about you? What sort of reading do you do? Do you also have a Happenstance Pile?