Take & Read, Spiritual Reading: An Annotated List by Eugene Peterson is the other reading guide that I’ve read and re-read. I’ll start with the whole gender balance issue to get that out of the way, then move on to what I like about Peterson’s list.
As I mentioned yesterday, after reading Unless by Carol Shields I started looking carefully at gender balance in reading lists and in my own reading. It is relatively easy to get a good count on male and female authors from Peterson’s guide as it is primarily a set of lists. (The books by James Sire mentioned yesterday are more about reading rather than lists of things to read. Excavating how many times women and men were referenced involved the index and counting notes and I’m not sure my numbers are right.) The guide contains 204 named authors (excluding Peterson), 24 of whom are women. The books lists 256 works, and 28 of these works are by women. Yes, that means some women are mentioned twice. The women who are mentioned on two lists are Annie Dillard, Virginia Stem Owens, Evelyn Underhill, and Sigrid Undset. All in all Peterson doesn’t do horribly badly in the gender balance category, but 7 of his 19 lists include no women (Classics, Psalms, Prayer, Prayerbooks, Spiritual Direction, Pastors, and Commentaries).
Peterson’s annotated lists are categorized by genre and content. Each list has an introduction that explains why Peterson reads this kind of writing. Peterson also helpfully explains how he places items in this particular list — what makes a commentary a commentary, for example. The introductions are what I like most about this book. I’ve quoted from the Poetry introduction when preaching on Isaiah. In that introduction, Peterson explains what reading poetry does to you and why many people “get impatient and go read Ann Landers instead.” Here is an extended quote on the difference between prose and poetry:
“In prose we are after something, getting information, acquiring knowledge. We read as fast as we can to get what we want so that we can put it to good use. If the writer is not writing well — that is, if we cannot understand her quickly — we get impatient, shut the book, and wonder why someone does not teach her to write a plain sentence. But in poetry we take a different stance. We are prepared to be puzzled, to go back, to wait, to ponder, to listen. This attending, this waiting, this reverential posture, is at the core of the life of faith, the life of prayer, the life of worship, the life of witness. If we are in too much of a hurry to speak, we commit sacrilege. Poets slow us down, poets make us stop. Read it again, read it again, read it again.”
[Notice the feminine pronoun? That is Peterson. He switches back and forth between he and she instead of using their.]
The only think that makes me twitch about Peterson’s annotated reading list is his final list — books he wrote. Really? Is that necessary? And you leave us with that list. It puts a damper on the rest of the book. But the rest is really good, so I go back to it anyhow and try to ignore the final list.