I’m sometimes asked what I’m reading, and my answer not infrequently leads to the further questions of how I decide what to read next, and why I read so many books at the same time.
I typically have from four to six books on the top right-hand corner of my desk; this is the “actively reading right now” stack. There are also nearly a dozen volumes with bookmarks in them sitting in the shelves at any given time – books I’ve started and set aside because they require a different frame of mind or more uninterrupted concentration than I can come by at the moment, as well as several collections of poetry and letters that I dip into now and then.
The questions of how I decide what to read and why I have so many books underway simultaneously often have more or less the same answer: one book (or one author) leads to another. There are a number of ways the chain reaction can be set off: In the first chapter – just thirteen pages – of An Experiment in Criticism by C.S. Lewis, the author mentions eight other authors/poets, one magazine, and six other books or poems by name; naturally, these references pique my interest, and I make a note to investigate the ones with which I am not familiar. I notice that Kathleen Norris wrote the foreword to the edition of Mere Christianity that sits in my shelf, and Kathleen Norris is added to the list of writers to check out. I read or hear somewhere that J.R.R. Tolkien was influenced by William Morris, and it becomes important to me to read Morris. A friend mentions Sheldon Vanauken’s A Severe Mercy, my pastor quotes Henri Nouwen…
I’m frequently amazed and delighted to find that the seemingly random threads I pick up at any given moment are in fact deeply interwoven. I have shared some, and will no doubt share more, of these coincidental connections in posts tagged “it’s all connected.” I’d be honored if you would share with me your similar experiences, either through comments here or email.