Making Reading Lists

A friend of mine has a whole month off over Christmas this year because he’s lucky and his exams end early. He plans to read. In that light, he asked me to pass him some recommendations, particularly in theology. This has led me to reflect on the making of reading lists in general, so I pass on my reflections to you.

  1. Start with what interests you. My friend — who I’ll call Cakebane (because cake is what he cuts with swords) — is interested in history. I’m not sure exactly which history courses Cakebane is taking this year at university, but if he chooses correctly he could end up with a Classics minor, so I know he’s got some interest in the ancient world. I will take this interest into consideration as I select possibilities for his reading list. But I will also tell him to start with what interests him most.
  2. Your reading list is not someone else’s reading list. As I began to think about this month-long block of time Cakebane has at Christmas I began to think “What would I read if I had a month off at Christmas?” But my reading list is not his reading list. I think I might plunge into The City of God by St. Augustine if I had a month to read. I’m not sure Cakebane wants that particular challenge this Christmas, though, he might. Don’t feel constrained by what other people are reading. Your reading list is not someone else’s reading list.
  3. Consider your location in life when putting together a list. Things change. You change. One of the things that happens when you read is that your reading changes you. I can read things now that I couldn’t read before because I’ve got more reading experience in some areas. For example, I’ve read a fair amount in the theological disciplines. I read theological books differently now than I did when I began to study. I also have more life experience now than previously. Never mind how much life experience I’ve got, just know that I’ve got more than Cakebane. Thus his reading list will reflect his life and reading experience.
  4. Let one interesting book lead to anotherI’ve mentioned before in this space that I like bibliographies. (I’ve said so more than once, and mentioned that bibliographies are part of how I figure out what to read next.) You can set up a reading list, but sometimes when you read one book, it leads you to something not on your list. Go there. Don’t be restricted. Then when that rabbit trail ends, go back to your list. This week as I read a footnote in my current Theology Reading List book, I was reminded of a memoir I picked up in the summer. Guess where I’m going next?
  5. Be flexible. This flows from point 4. Once you have a reading list, don’t feel bound to it, particularly if you’ve only got a limited time. If you’ve got a good reason for being disciplined about the list, then possibly you should be selective about the bookish rabbit trails you follow. If, however, this is a list to broaden your horizons, then follow your instincts. If that book in the footnote looks more interesting than the next book on your list, go for it. If the tenth book on the list catches your eye more than the second, skip down! Be flexible.

Happy reading list compiling. Let me know what is on your To Be Read List/Pile.

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