If you read books, we could have some great conversations. I have a great deal of respect for people who devote time and effort to getting into a book, mulling it over, and discussing it. Not an easy task since most of us tend to be passive readers, quickly moving from one word to the next in an effort to cross the finish line and close the book. I’ve been guilty of this myself, especially with those books commonly referred to as “Classics.”
Lately, I’ve been working to slow things down a bit and to re-educate myself toward appreciating the process of reading rather than groping toward the accomplishment of finishing. To that end, I purchased a little book aptly titled, The Little Guide to Your Well-Read Life by Steve Leveen. At first glance, it read like something I’d been looking for, a book about the reading process and about getting more enjoyment out of it. But at $17.50, the price felt a little steep given the somewhat abbreviated table of contents. In fact, many of the topics listed were already familiar ideas. Concepts like pre-reading to get a general feel for the subject (and book), or saving the Introduction and Forward sections for after you’ve finished the book so that they’ll have more meaning, were concepts I’d already been practicing.
What drew me to the book, however, was the author’s turn of the old phrase “living a well-read life.” Leveen’s point was for you to live your well-read life rather than one dictated by others. It was then that I realized I’d been looking for someone to free me from the expectations of what I was told I should read, and to instill in me (and make me believe) the idea that I am the best judge of what books will most elevate my life. With that promise in mind, I pulled out the credit card and brought the new baby home.
Unfortunately, I quickly discovered that I’d vastly overpaid for the advice in this little book. The ideas Leveen presents are not bad, but if you’ve done any sort of serious reading in your life, the problem is that there’s nothing new. In fact, in one of his more enticingly-titled chapters, “Uncovering the Books that Will Change Your Life,” you might believe you were about to be handed the key to a literary Fort Knox. Not so. In fact, uncovering the books that will change your life is really nothing more than a series of banal suggestions such as:
- Making lists of potential books you might want to read in the future
- Reading book reviews
- Following the recommendations of friends and family when choosing a book
Any serious book lover, especially one who has chosen Leveen’s book in an attempt to improve their reading life, most likely already practices these suggestions and more.
What Leveen’s book does do, and rather too well at that, is drop name after name of well-known authors, along with their personal recommendations for good books. He makes the point early on to heed the recommendations of friends and family, but to discern said recommendations through the lens of your own likes and dislikes. So to continually proffer his friends’ recommendations in a book supposedly meant to free you from the strictures of recommendations from strangers felt a bit disingenuous.
There’s good and bad where The Little Guide To Your Well-Read Life is concerned. The good is that it’s a small book and a quick read. The bad is that this little guide offers very little in the way of discovering your own well-read life.