April 21, 2012

Mission: Read Good Books Well

This is the year I regain my attention span through reading.

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I've always been a reader--I even earned a degree in literature two decades ago. Over the past several years, I noticed a change in my reading habits. I began reading more blogs, news, and light "tricks and tips" related to my profession, and less fiction, poetry, and challenging nonfiction. As my reading habits changed, I observed troubling changes in my thinking patterns and attention span too. Deep analysis and divergent thinking became tedious. I found myself thinking in terms of quick fixes and bullet lists,
  • which
  • isn't
  • necessarily
  • good.
The catalyst for change came during winter break last year. We planned a family trip to visit the in-laws. Knowing that I'd have plenty of time to read (and that the internet connection would be flaky), I threw Mortimer Adler's How to Read a Book into my backpack. I devoured that book in a week. The message was simple and challenging:

Read good books well.

That's my mantra this year. I determined to read challenging books and to read them rigorously.

But what to read? I set a goal to read five epic poems: The Iliad, The Odyssey, The Aeneid, The Divine Comedy, and Paradise Lost. (Links are to the translations I'm reading, except for Paradise Lost which was written in a language I happen to know.) To keep from burning out on the genre, I decided to take a month or two for each book and intersperse some other edifying books among them for variety.

This blog is the book-by-book record of my reading. I'll post what I'm reading, some general impressions, and a very brief review (maybe a haiku). I welcome your reading suggestions, questions, and encouragement. Feel free to leave comments, subscribe, and share on your social networks. Just don't let it take you away from your reading!


  1. I hope you succeed Jeremy. I recently purchased both Tony Reinke's "Lit" and Adler's "How to Read a Book." Reinke's I've started and soon to be reading Adler. I've trying to vary my reading content and still wondering if I'm satisfied with the results. Have you in my Google reader hoping to follow along with you in your quest.

  2. Hi Scott. Thanks for the kind words. I'm ahead of schedule with my five epics. I finished the Divine Comedy and will start Paradise Lost soon. Now, I'm enjoying reading The Stranger with the good folks at the Gospel Coalition Blog. I checked out your blog and subscribed. Good stuff! Your daughter's driver's ed letter was quite powerful.

  3. My son just finished "The Stranger." What a privilege to read along with the Gospel Coalition folks. I did read from "The Stranger" myself at least up to the funeral. Leland Ryken's article was very very helpful to me in getting an understanding and appreciation for what Camus wrote. I hope to continue to read the articles.

    1. I've enjoyed that group too! I'm going to join a group that will be reading "The Hidden Life of Prayer" over at Tim Challies's blog. Looks like it'll be a good one too.


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