Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Of the Making of Books...

Resolution #2: Read 25 books a year

Progress: Not Started

The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who can't read them.  ~Mark Twain

I believe that it was my sister that first introduced me to this quote, attributed to Mark Twain, and it embedded itself into my cerebral cortex from the first time I set eyes upon it. It's a striking thought to consider that by choosing to not read good books, one can willingly place themselves in the company of the illiterate. For all the people I have met through various stages of life, I cannot recall anyone expressing regret to me that they had learned to read. Therefore, what Twain has essentially created, is a guilt trip in a quote; for if I am not currently expanding my horizons and knowledge through books, I am no better than an uneducated fool.

When I was a child, I was a labeled bookworm, and it wasn't a label I had chosen for myself. My mother would proudly proclaim every year in our family Christmas newsletter, that when she couldn't find me, I was almost certainly, "hidden, curled up in a corner somewhere with a book." In retrospect, I suppose it is a title I had willingly earned. Late at night (9:30pm for a youngster such as myself) I would dutifully prepare myself for bed and turn to the covers, book in hand. I would then begin a wonderful journey into worlds unknown, exploring fictional fantasies with an imagination so wild it would put Chicken Little to shame. My fantastical journeys would be brought back to a cold reality, however, with the sound of my father making his way down the stairs. A quick glance at the clock, 10:45pm, reminds me that I should definitely be asleep by now. Through much experience, I learned I had just a few brief seconds to darken the lights in my room, stow the book down in the covers, and begin a deeper, slower, trance-like breathing, simulating sleep the best my 9 year old self knew how. After a brief glance, and a few words of prayer over my 'sleeping' body, my father would return upstairs, and I would resume my magic voyage until I literally could no longer keep my eyes open, and collapsed into the pages of my book, where I would continue my adventures in my dreams. My parents never mentioned my late-night escapades, which seldom ended before 1 or 2am, and to this day, I am not sure if they were privy to the knowledge. The difficulties my mother had awakening me in the mornings, must have raised her suspicions.

I continued these reading patterns through high-school, where the classical style of education meant a reading list that averaged a book a week. The assignments given were on a much more sophisticated level as well, as I learned from Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Thomas Hobbes, Augustine, and Shakespeare, as well as many others far too numerous to list. The opinions and ideas of the authors were always sure to spark lively discussions during class, as well as a few arguments. Life moved on, I started college, and well, great literature was not as much of a priority in the engineering classes I was attending. Between homework and sports, who has time to read? 

Mercifully for all students, college eventually also draws to a close, and now I'm working full-time, have no homework, and cannot perform my work duties from home even should I so desire. I went home for some vacation and saw Twain's words, nearly lost in life's chaos, and I'm again taking that familiar guilt trip. It's time to return to those blessed days of expanded horizons through the windows of words. 

I've chosen 25 books a year as a starting block. This will put me at half my high-school pace, and probably a tenth of my elementary school pace, but I'm planning on choosing books a little more substantial than "Fun with Dick and Jane." As the first step in this endeavor, I visited Half Price Books this weekend, a discount shop in Columbus, and picked up a few items:
The Chosen - Chaim Potek 
The Promise (sequel to The Chosen) - Chaim Potek
Killer Angels - Michael Shaara
Candide - Voltaire

I remember reading Candide and Killer Angels in high-school, and enjoying both greatly. The Chosen and The Promise are books that my mother has recommended to me, and have rested on her top shelf for many years. I also received several books at Christmas, so the reading list is expanding daily. I'll be sure to update my progress, and perhaps even post a "book review" as I finish each one, so if you would like to follow with my reading list, and enter into lively discussion, I would be quite honored. I plan on starting with The Chosen, a 1967 novel about two Jewish boys that comes highly recommended, so it's time to see if it merits the hype!

Think 25 books is too much/too little? Want to suggest your favorite books for my reading list? There is only one way to make your voice heard! Click "comments" below!


  1. hey aaron, i think this is an awesome idea! as a former 'flashlight under the covers' reader myself, i definitely sense a loss of adventure and imagination, the kind that is only truly accessible to the accepting, unaffected mind of a child. in my 'adult' life i've found that reading offers a new set of experiences, so i too, challenge myself to fit it in. here are some of my favorites if you're in need of suggestions: The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas; A Room with a View, EM Forster; The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton; Three Cups of Tea, Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin; and of course, if you haven't read it, the ever classic Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen. can't wait to hear how it goes, and hopefully in the process i'll get some recommendations from you! happy reading

  2. Aaron,
    Great goal! I read (actually listen) to books all the time. I have been through about 40 audio books in the past 2 years along with another dozen books that I have read paper copies. I am on the road a fair amount and got tiered of the negativity of NPR & talk radio. I would suggest that you make some categories of reading; business, history, theology, fiction, personal development etc. and move among categories. I have recently read a couple of interesting business/personal skills books if you are interested in that category.

  3. Jo, thanks for the suggestions, I'll be sure to check some of those out, since the only one from your list that I've read is Pride and Prejudice!

    Mr. Gingrich, I like the idea to separate my reading into categories. I definitely need to do that so I end up with meaningful books. I'd be happy to hear suggestions of any particularly good ones that you know!

  4. On the business/personal development category my top three recommendations are:

    The Anatomy of Peace - Arbinger Institute - understanding the nature of personal conflict and the role self deception plays in it.

    Never Eat Alone - Keith Ferrazzi - a great story about networking. How to connect with people for your gain and theirs. I highly recommend it to everyone, most people will not take it to the lengths that Ferrazzi does but the principles are great.

    Getting Things Done - David Allen - a book on personal work flow. Teaches broad strategies not just specific techniques. A great set of habit to develop while your responsibilities are relatively light.

    These books are all outstanding introductions to life skills that are outside of the scope of traditional educational course work.

    I would love to hear your take on them after you read or listen to them. audible.com is a great source for audio books to listen to while you drive.

    btw once you graduate your are free to call me Bruce

  5. Alan Paton- Cry the Beloved Country. One of mom and my favorites! :)

  6. Hi Hannah! I already have read Cry the Beloved Country. I think I should have a second go at it though, since I told Mom that I didn't understand it. She said I hadn't lived long enough, a problem I'm slowly fixing.


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