135 Journals Book Club: The Little Guide to Your Well Read Life, by Steve Leveen

13 Apr


Here’s Virgil having a nice little read in a fifth century manuscript (Wikimedia commons)

This thin book was a fascinating find. If you are a fan of libraries, there is a section of books at the very beginning of the Dewey decimal system that are about . . . books! This one is not about WHAT books you should read, but about how you can grasp more pleasure out of the books you DO read, and how to find the kind of books that are going to bring you the most benefit. The author emphasizes very strongly that a good book is a book that’s good for YOU to read, that serves YOUR interests and preferences. As he notes, enthusiastically, his book is a guide for readers “who want more in their lives. It will show you how to do a better job finding books you love, how to read more of them, how to retain more from them, and as a result, live a larger life.”


To do so, he suggests that readers create lists, either in a notebook or on the computer. One list would be a “List of Candidates”—types of books you would like to read. That can move from books you’ve personally craved reading to books that are recommended to you (he suggests noting the source and reason why) by friends, and also suggests that you make headings for books that are in interests that you have—maybe you always wanted to learn more about birds, or how to be on time, or how cars work, or France. You may not know the best books to read on the subject—yet—but you have a frame of reference for exploring. As you poke around in a bookstore, library, or online, you may start to find the classics of the field. I recently had that experience when I was writing a book on racial profiling and the justice system. Other books that I leafed through repeatedly mentioned The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. Alexander’s book was excellent, thorough, original, and extremely useful to me, but I would not have found it if I had not already been searching for books on the subject. He also mentioned that some libraries have Reader Advisory librarians who remember the book that was on the tip of your tongue; i.e; “Who was that writer who was in France and always thinking about cookies?” Why, that would be Marcel Proust, the librarian might say.


Another section of his book is devoted to “seizing more” from your reading. He advises looking over a book superficially, checking out the back and front matter, skimming briefly, before digging in. And, if you don’t like it, stop reading. He gives an anecdote about Scott Eyman of the Palm Beach Post, who gets about 300 books a week—and reads and reviews 2 or 3—and who has a 50 page minimum. You, too, could have a fifty page minimum. Or five page minimum, for that matter. “Why squander books that don’t speak to you?” he asks.


In addition, he suggests buying copies of books because you can write notes in the margin. He believes that looking up words you don’t know will enrich you. And to keep a reader’s journal. After you read a book, give it a little time to cool and to think about it.


He has a number of other useful suggestions in this small book. I know that I was especially inspired by the idea of making up a wish list of books on the basis of subjects that struck my fancy, and of keeping a list. It also made me more determined to write in books, or, if they are library books, to take notes. Because books DO enrich life. And it’s nice to have a reminder how to give them even more power to do so.

And by the way, Mr. Leveen has his own website about the book with more information: http://www.yourwellreadlife.com/


Writing Prompt: What books do you want to read?

One Response to “135 Journals Book Club: The Little Guide to Your Well Read Life, by Steve Leveen”

  1. fransiweinstein April 14, 2014 at 12:49 pm #

    Can’t say I’ve ever made lists, but I do love to make notes in books — not in library copies obviously 🙂

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