SummaryInterested in a personal booklist? Mary Donellan decided that’s what she needed to reclaim her reading habit and came up with a simple three step solution.
What an embarrassing moment for me. My footsteps slowed to a shuffle across the blue bookstore carpet as I hemmed and hawed over the question I suddenly couldn’t answer.
The question, posed by my best friend, was: “What have you been reading lately?”
My answer: the aforementioned hems and haws.
“Well . . . erm, well, I read Emma before Christmas, of course,” (nearly half a year gone by since then, but I didn’t point it out, in case the questioner couldn’t remember where Christmas occurred in the calendar year), “of course . . . and since then . . . well . . . well . . .”
Have you ever suddenly realized that you’ve been existing in a dreamy marshmallow of self-satisfaction, crooning over pet habits you’re positive you have . . . until you’re awakened to the truth you just might not have them anymore?
Yes, me, the self-proclaimed book hoarder! Yes, me, the voracious page-devourer of the family! These were my fumbled answers. Erms and ums.
This, with scattered exceptions, was the summation of my reading life, post-graduation from homeschool:
I thought I was reading, but I hadn’t been. What a beam in my eye! Woe was me!
And did this embarrassing collapse of my literary house of cards have to happen in a bookstore?
Insult to injury.
I Had to Build a Book List
Please don’t misunderstand—my lovely parents did both teach and encourage me to read ever since I could prop up board books with my chubby toddler fingers.
I did progress beyond Goodnight Moon and A Day with Barney to engrossing literary triumphs like The Lord of the Rings, Pride and Prejudice and Hamlet.
My high school years were stuffed with reading and analyzing literature, dissecting Ferber’s Giant and Orwell’s Animal Farm with Seton English . . . so on and so forth. Books were exhilarating; books were a little universe.
I marveled in “sub-creation” and I poured hundreds of hours into writing stories of my own. Reading was immensely important to me.
But then . . . something happened. Probably a combination of life events, of graduation and other commitments, of housework and courtship.
These albeit wonderful “somethings” culminated in the infamous looks-like-I-haven’t-read-a-book-in-six-months moment.
That’s when I seized the chariot reins, made an about-face, and yelled a battle cry (something along the lines of Where’s my library caaaard?!).
That’s when I decided I had to build a book list out of my busy life, and reclaim the reading I loved.
Here are three simple steps I took towards resurrecting an active reading life; these are the very same steps you can take, too, if you—parent, student or graduate— have just suddenly realized you need to be reading more and are wondering how to do it.
Step 1: I Kept My Eyes Open
I knew had to start somewhere. But I also knew that flinging myself into Amazon, local bookstores, and review sites, all afire to devour books and be a Reader again, would probably leave me with a gargantuan pile of books I’d never finish, and a nice helping of discouragement to go with it. So I determined not to overload myself.
Instead, I simply kept my eyes (and ears) open. I knew that in the events of my everyday life I was bound to come across a book or two that intrigued me.
In casual conversation or by friendly recommendation, in my parish library or on the sidebar of a wholesome website, I was able to create a worthy and considered book list for myself one piece at a time.
To illustrate: the first book I read upon embarking on my reading crusade, Finding Calcutta by Mary Poplin, came just in time for Lent and was recommended to me by my Knight in one of our conversations.
My next reads, Maria and The Story of the Trapp Family Singers by Maria von Trapp, and the spiritual classic Diary of a Country Priest by Georges Bernanos, all fell into my hands because I had caught sight of them before (both in their actual covers and on websites) and my brain had managed to make note of them.
Step 2: I Sought Beauty and Truth (and stretched my reading preferences)
This little literary crusade of mine was definitely due to the Holy Spirit, because I found myself only wanting to read things that were beautiful and true. Books that felt thick, so to speak, and hearty, like spiritual stew with all the right meats and spices (please bear with me and my dreadful pet analogies . . .).
Works that bolstered and nourished my Catholic faith, impacted me deeply, and stretched my tastes and preferences.
I also purposefully wanted works I would have to struggle through. The whole diligence thing. We learn to implement it in school, but no one ever said we’d have to stop learning to implement diligence after school.
Example: There was a good, wholesome fantasy novel that I originally tried to read when I was fifteen. I didn’t like the verbose style and the mildly slow plot very much and didn’t exactly break a sweat trying to get through it. Actually, I just sent it back.
The same out-of-the-library-and-back-again cycle was repeated approximately 10.83 times across five years for this same book (I think my conscience was troubling me) before I finally put my foot down. I persevered through it this time, found many good points to the story, and then triumphantly finished it.
Another example: I grew up a fiction junkie by nature (Give me Narnia! Give me Middle-earth! Give me Thornfield!), and so I knew, in order to prudently balance my literary appetites, I needed to get things that weren’t fiction. (And yes, my dear ladies, that means Mr. Darcy wasn’t a historical personage.)
So I requested biographies, books on saints and works on history, read them, greatly enjoyed them, and learned a good deal.
I suppose you could point out these were the vegetables of my reading diet.
But, as is the way with vegetables, they weren’t so bad after the first few bites (in fact, some were scrumptious), and they invigorated my mind.
Step 3: I Kept a Rhythm (or something like one)
The last step was the simplest of all; I kept up a rhythm.
I tried to read a chapter or so daily of the few books I was currently immersed in. In my selections, I tried to revolve between fiction and non-fiction, religion and adventure, modern styles and literary.
This kept my mind engaged, my intellect exercised, my imagination happy, my soul fed. I pledged myself to a little diligence and reaped definite blessings from it.
It’s approaching a year and a half since I built a book list out of my busy life, and I haven’t looked back.
I now keep a long list that serves as a fond recollection of everything I’ve been privileged to read. I’ve met wonderful authors and scintillating characters.
I feel as if I’ve been able to grow as much in diligence, love of study, love of my faith and perseverance as in knowledge and appreciation of good literature, all by determining to read purposefully again. (Who knew that even graduates could feel this way?) And I’ve been able to apply these little bits of virtues to other areas of my life.
God is good.
And, best of all, I’m armed with way too many answers for anyone who wants to know what I’ve been reading lately!
Header photo CC: Adobe Stock: guliveris