More than 40 years ago Mortimer Adler wrote a book still gathering accolades in 2015: How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading. I pondered this title as I purged my bookshelves and made space for new books. What’s piqued my interest, in recent days, is how and why people select the books they purchase and read.
Aren’t you curious about whether you have any rhyme or reason to the choices you’ve made? What do your bookshelves reveal about you? Do you read within a single genre or do your choices span a broad range of subjects? Are you reading almost entirely by a single author? Who are you becoming as a result of your choices?
Over the years I’ve surely given more books to the library’s book sales than I’ve kept. So in that regard the books I own today are a distillation of the books I’ve read and these I most value. My books have seen me through years of raising a family, becoming a business woman, going to graduate school and being a coach. They’ve supported me through transitions I’ve already made and others yet to come. My mother’s Catholic Bible, a book on Church History and the English Standard Bible are as signposts along the journey of my faith transition.
Book genres that mirror my interests include the study of social and cultural history. I discovered such works as Gloria Steinem’s The Feminine Mystique during graduate school. Later works such as Nicholas Lemann’s The Promised Land and Mary Pipher’s The Middle of Everywhere: Helping Refugees Enter the American Community expanded and altered my map of the world.
Of historical and literary significance are books such as The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran, Wallace Stegner’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Angle of Repose and Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum’s, That Used to Be Us. Along with William J Bennett’s collection of Americana and short stories in The Moral Compass are books I have greatly enjoyed–each easily worth reading again.
Books on leadership and professional growth by authors such as Peter Drucker in The Effective Executive, John C. Maxwell’s most recent book, Good Leaders Ask Great Questions, and Stephen R. Covey in the classic, The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People inform the work I do as a coach, mentor and writer.
I shall be ever grateful for the woman teaching a non-credit writing class who expanded my awareness and led me to appreciate the extraordinary storytelling of Joan Didion in Slouching Toward Bethlehem and James McBride’s The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother. And then there are the books on how to simplify your life, books on how to draw—skills I’ve not mastered. And so the books remain on my shelves–beacons in the distance of who I aspire to be.
What do your books tell about you?