Saturday, May 07, 2005

How to Become Well Read

It is with much skepticism that I read The Little Guide to Your Well-Read Life by Steve Leveen. The subtitle is "how to get more books in your life and more life from your books" and the back of the dust jacket makes some big promises including how to read 12 more books a year. I wasn't sure if this slim book of only 111 pages (not including bibliography) would be able to live up to its promises, but at least it was short and I wouldn't be spending too much time with it. Steve Leveen is the CEO and co-founder of Levenger. This book grew, he claims, out of his own frustrations as a reader. He used to enjoy reading but became too busy with life and career and didn't have time. A few years ago he set out to change that and fell in love with books all over again. He discovered what most avid readers already know, that if you love a book, if you love reading, you have the time to do it because you make the time to do it because you enjoy doing it. Well-Read Life is directed at the people who are on the verge of book love but have not yet fallen. Leveen is hoping to make them fall. The book is a very long essay peppered with easy to reference headings, bookish pen and ink drawings and quotes about books and reading. There is a great section about the history of the audiobook which includes a discussion about whether or not audiobooks "count" as reading. Leveen comes down firmly on the side of yes (and I must agree). It also turns out that this is how to add the 12 more books a year. According to Duvall Hecht, founder and owner of Books on Tape, a company that rents audiobooks, his top subscribers rent a book a month. Therefore, if you do not now listen to audiobooks and want to read more books, start listening--on your way to and from work or while running errands or while working out at the gym (just be careful you don't get so engrossed you fall off the treadmill--it can happen just ask over at Bookworld). Sadly this will not work for me since the tape deck in my car no longer works and I don't relish paying to have it fixed or buying a new one. My commute is also only ten minutes. My Bookman, however, always has a book going in the car. He just finished Pride and Prejudice and is now listening to Prep. The book also continues the perpetual reader discussion about whether or not one should write in a book. Leveen is, as he calls it, a Footprint Leaver, though he understands the Preservationist point of view. I am, like one reader he quotes, a Preservationist, "I have tried numerous times to be a Footprint Leaver, but have failed miserably! I would love to be able to write in books; I just can't bring myself to do it." And here Leveen imparts a great idea--sticky notes. Can't bring yourself to write in the book? Write on a sticky note and stick it on the page where you couldn't bring yourself to write. Why I never thought of this before I can't say, but I like it and plan to give it a try for any book I don't want to write in. Because while I am a Preservationist at heart, there are some books I give myself permission to write in. I think I have mentioned before that I will sometimes write in nonfiction books, Montaigne's Essays for example. Other topical discussions in Well-Read Life include book groups, when to give up on a book (after 50 pages), and how to choose and read a book. Leveen has a rather elaborate system for book reading which goes well beyond keeping a list with a rating. His is an elaborate reading journal, a "bookography" (you can, of course, get a pre-formatted bookography notebook from Levenger) which includes not only author and title but also things like when you acquired the book, when you began reading the book, notes while reading, if you abandon the book when and why, and post-reading notes and review. It seems a little much to me but then I guess this blog is a variation on the same thing in a way. The point of Leveen's system is to get readers to think about the book while reading it and to think about it after it is done. Too many people Leveen believes, close the cover of the book after the last page and never think about the book again. Well-Read Life is classified as a self-help book. If you are someone who wants to become a reader, it will very likely be useful in getting you started by providing a foundation upon which to build your reading and reading habits. If you are already a reader it will serve only as an interesting afternoon's reading wherein you may find a good idea (sticky notes!) to incorporate into your current reading ways. The best thing about the book is the five-page bibliography that lists books about books and reading and a few biographies of authors who wrote about how books profoundly affected their lives. Leveen has also begun a well-read life section at Levenger's website with author interviews and a column about reading. Here you can read an interview with Leveen, reviews and excerpts of the book.