Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Little Guide to Your Well-Read Life (2005)

So, I probably shouldn't have read this book. I'm already satisfied with my reading life and I don't like self-help books. But when I ordered a refill for my day planner from Levenger (the Circa system is awesome, by the way), they threw in a free copy of CEO Steve Leveen's The Little Guide to Your Well-Read Life (2005), and my personal reading system is that I will read basically anything that presents itself, so here we are.

I really didn't like this book that much, but I want to be fair to it: if you are a middle-aged rich person who hasn't read much in the past, really wants to read more, and likes a lot of hand-holding advice, then this is the book for you! Okay, that sounded snotty. Here are some things about the book that I liked:

1. The quotes from other authors who have written about reading were extensive and nicely chosen.

2. It reminded me of the SQ3R method for reading comprehension, which gave me some nostalgic glee (although I have never ever had the patience to apply this method to anything).

3. He has some interesting hints here and there, particularly about annotating your books.

4. The idea is good, and Leveen is obviously an earnest guy who really is excited about reading -- and if it gets other people to read more, then I'm all for it.


1. Listening to an audio book does not count as reading the book. Not even if it is unabridged and you really really like the actor who is reading it. No. I am firm on this. They have their place, but they are not the same as reading. (And Leveen devotes an entire chapter to books-on-tape! And tells us that "in some cases the author's ideas can reach us more directly and powerfully through audiobooks than through the intermediary of print," using William Faulkner and Zora Neale Hurston as examples! And then claims that reading books is actually less true to the story than listening to them because the Iliad was passed on through an oral tradition so we should all listen to books!)

2. He invents words like "bookography" (an annotated list of the books you've read, the idea of which I love, but the word for which I hate), and "ristening" (a word for the practice of "reading" books by listening to them [a practice which I denounce]).

3. He makes statements about young adults in their 20s and 30s not being able to read for fun because they are too busy reading trade publications and professional literature and building their career (look around at your friends -- does this actually apply to anyone you know?). And later talks about how young mothers join book clubs "after stepping out of active careers to raise young children." But what about all of us who aren't workaholics and/or can't quit our jobs when we have kids? And still like to read?

So, I wanted to like this book more than I did, and I feel kind of like a reading snob for being so hard on it. The biggest problem with it, for me, is probably the self-helpy tone. I just don't like to be told what to do.

So, here's my number one tip for enhancing your well-read life: Turn off the TV. Move away from the computer. Sit down in a comfortable chair with good light. Then open the book and start reading. Which is what I'm going to do right now...

[And if you want a taste of Leveen's book for yourself, you can find it right here.]


jlowe said...

While I admit that I have neglected a lot of professional type reading in favor of fun reading, I actually do read at least two "trade publications" (aka professional journals) and have read a large number of the major archaeological excavation reports from Texas.
So, yeah, if you know me, then you know at least one person who has to spend some time keeping up with their professional literature...
Still, the book sounds pretty wack.

Spacebeer said...

Yeah, I read professional literature too (although I'm pretty far behind on one of my journals), but I don't read it so much that I don't also read for fun, which I think was what Leveen was implying. Pretty wack is a good description of the book in general...