The Secret Shelf - 02

I once asked a writer what he'd read lately. "Oh, I don't read much," he replied. I fell off my chair. Not really. If you want your writing to peel away like cheap paint on a lawn chair, then keep your reading diet slight. If you do read, read only the popular modern books, like Blink or How To blah blah blah, and never dip into Shakespeare. And never, never, read the poets. I mean, what could we possibly learn from Wordsworth's The Prelude. And don't get me started on how frivolous and unrelated Plato and Boethius are to your writing.

Of course, I could rant on, but I won't. I think you get the picture. Your writing will reflect the depth at which you read. So, read broadly, deeply, and with great care. Ranting aside, here's this month's installment of "The Secret Shelf." Whatever you do, don't share this post with anyone. It's a secret! I do, however, welcome rants on how much you read and what books are currently igniting your mind. 

1. How To Read A BookMortimer J. Adler - If you want to improve the quality and speed of your reading, charge up your "One Click" button on Amazon and buy this book. I wish my high school teachers would have encouraged me to read this. I read it, on my own, in college, and it revolutionized my reading and writing. This is another book I return to often (see #1 here) as a way to refresh my mind on the art of reading. But it does more than help you read better, it also informs your perspective on books. You wouldn't ride a steel-framed knobby-tire mountain bike in the Tour de France, so why would you read Beowulf the way you read Calvin's Institutes? 

2. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, Stephen King - What can I say? This book contains direct brilliance. Some of my friends make fun of my disdain for "ly" words. But I am not alone in my cause. "Adverbs, like the passive voice, seem to have been created with the timid writer in mind. With the passive voice, the writer usually expresses fear of not being taken seriously; it is the voice of little boys wearing shoe polish mustaches and little girls clumping around in Mommy's high heels." Adverbs aside, the brilliance of this book is King's ability to share his own story while showing you how to be a better writer. It's engaging. It's funny. And, you'll learn a thing or two. 

3. An Experiment on Criticism, C.S. Lewis - I hesitate to include this one, because it is, quite honestly, some of my secret sauce. But I'm a sharer (indeed, an over-sharer!). Published near the end of Lewis's life (1961) the title might scare some away. Don't be fooled. This book is a powerhouse of literary and aesthetic insight. Lewis examines "readers" as a way to determine the quality of a book. When was the last time you reread a book? Lewis suggests that a literary reader will often reread, and that an unliterary person will say, "I've already read that."

How many times do you dip into books you've read before? Your answer will reveal the quality of books you read and the kind of reader you are. "The devotee of culture is, as a person," writes Lewis, "worth much more than the status seeker. He reads as he also visits art galleries and concert rooms, not to make himself acceptable, but to improve himself, to develop his potentialities, to become a more complete man." 

What kind of reader are you? What are you reading? 

{For a fine review of Lewis's An Experiment in Criticism, go here.}

Looking for a new devotional read for 2015? I invite you to consider my new devotional Longing For More. It's a 52-week devotional that you can begin at anytime. Get a copy here. 

Timothy Willard is the author of three books, including Longing For More: Daily Reflections on Finding God in the Rhythms of Life. He has collaborated on over 20 books and has written, consulted and served as spiritual director for organizations such as Chick-fil-A, Catalyst, Q Ideas and Praxis Labs. He lived in Oxford, England for two years studying beauty in the works of C.S. Lewis. He earned his PhD in Theology under the supervision of world-renowned theologian Alister McGrath. When he’s not riding the trails in the Appalachian mountains you can find him by the fire with his three daughters and his wife making up stories about Tom the back yard badger. He lives somewhere in the south Charlotte woods.