Saturday, January 23, 2010

List #28: Answers to 11 Questions about Reading

In the last book I read, Mikita Brottman's The Solitary Vice: Against Reading she spends the better part of a chapter describing the answers to a survey about reading habits that she administered to over 50 people. I thought it would be interesting to provide my own answers.

1) What book are you currently reading?
I am currently reading three books: Weekends at Bellevue by Dr. Julia Holland (a medical memoir), The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by John Gottman, and Be The Change, a collection of justice and peace related prayers and meditations by UU minister Stephen Shick.

The next books on my list include writings by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a business and leadership book entitled A Sense of Urgency by John Kotter, and McSweeney’s Volume 30.

2) How do you decide what book to read next?
In this post I described how I intentionally plan to read books from different disciplines. Each year I read at least one book from each of the following categories: contemporary fiction, classic fiction, short stories, poetry, spiritual writing, religious scholarship, church administration, at least one book from the field of business, at least one book from the field of math or science, and at least one book about a profession that is unfamiliar to me.

I actually keep a master list of books I hope to read. The list has well-over 300 titles. My particular mood and upcoming sermon topics influence which books I choose to read next.

3) Do you always finish books, or do you give up on them?
Not only do I always finish books, but I actually have made a list of books that I gave up on that I plan to return to one day. In previous years I have returned to (and enjoyed!) Louis Menand’s The Metaphysical Club and Michael Chabon’s The Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. Some books that I have given up on that I plan to return to include Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, Christopher Moore’s Lamb, and Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove.

4) Do you generally separate your reading into “work” and “fun”?
Only for tax purposes. It is true that I probably wouldn’t have read John Carver’s book on policy governance or Gil Rendle and Susan Beaumont’s book on staffing and supervision in churches if I did not work for a church. On the other hand, most books I read on religious history, theology, and spirituality are enjoyable.

5) Do you ever reread books you love? If so, how often?
No. The only books I reread are preaching books that I reread each time I teach my Preaching Practicum course at the church. There are a few essays and short pieces that I do reread from time to time. These include Peter Gammons’ Baseball Hall of Fame induction speech, Atul Gawande’s essay “The Learning Curve,” and David Foster Wallace’s commencement address at Kenyon College.

6) Can you read books in noisy places (e.g., on trains and buses)?
I enjoy reading at coffee shops and other places where there is a lot of noise and distraction. The one place where I absolutely cannot read is while I am a passenger in a car.

7) Can you remember if a book has ever made you laugh out loud, or shed tears?
I notice that I cry during movies more often than I cry while reading. I think the book that caused me to tear up the most was Dave Eggers’ What is the What. On the other side, I find it is easy for me to laugh, chuckle, or guffaw while reading. Sometimes what I am reading will make me recall a hilarious incident. Sometimes the content itself is funny. But usually it is a clever or unusual word usage that gives me a chuckle.

8) Where do you buy most of your books? How much do you spend on books each year?
I buy too many books. In fact, I probably buy more than $1,000 worth of books each year. But at least I get to charge roughly half of it to my professional expenses.

Where do I buy books? I subscribe annually to McSweeney’s Literary Quarterly. I also usually make a purchase or two from the McSweeney’s website. I order books directly from Skinner House Books of the Unitarian Universalist Association. These are worth supporting! I also shop at Borders where I make use of my Borders membership and discount coupons. I also shop at I do go and browse at two Half-Priced Books locations in Kansas City though I tend not to buy much from them. Finally, I tend to buy as many books as I can carry at a library’s used book sale or at the book sales put on by Unitarian Universalist churches in the KC metro area.

9) Do you use bookmarks, or dog-ear the pages of your books? Do you make marginal notes? If so, do you use pencil or pen?
Most books I read are pristine when I am done with them. I tend not to write in them and I usually do not dog-ear the pages. I always use bookmarks. Sometimes I use business cards as bookmarks. In one book that I am currently reading I am using a bookmark I picked up in South America that has a picture of an endangered bird on it. In another book I am using a Bill of Rights bookmark that the ACLU sent to me.

10) How quickly do you read? Do you skim through pages at top speed, or do you stop to savor the sentences along the way?
Reading for me is a marathon, not a sprint. I am not a particularly fast reader. However, I do read attentively paying close attention to the text.

11) Where, and when, do you do your best reading?
Mikita Brottman wrote that most people said they do their best reading in bed. That is not the case for me. I actually prefer not to read right before I go to bed. My best reading is done on the couch if I have a rainy afternoon and nowhere I have to be.