Today I respond to a questioner asking for a tour of my bookshelves. You don’t get the tour (sorry!), but I do share a bit about my library and reading habits.
Some of the books that I mention within the video and would particularly recommend:
Alan Noble, Disruptive Witness: Speaking Truth in a Distracted Age
Michael J. McClymond and Gerald McDermott, The Theology of Jonathan Edwards
Michael J McClymond, The Devil’s Redemption: A New History and Interpretation of Christian Universalism
Yoram Hazony, The Philosophy of Hebrew Scripture
Yoram Hazony, The Virtue of Nationalism
Julián Marías, Metaphysical Anthropology
Ivan Illich, Tools for Conviviality
Diarmaid MacCulloch, Thomas Cranmer
Greg Lukianoff & Jonathan Haidt, The Coddling of the American Mind
If you have any questions for me, please leave them on my Curious Cat account. If you have found these videos helpful, please tell your friends. If you would like to support my continued production of them, you can do so on my Patreon account. You can also get the audio of these videos on Soundcloud or iTunes.
1) What about the book on Edwards captivated you? Was it a particular element of Edwards’ theology or how the authors unpack it?
2) What about Hazony’s book about Hebrew Scriptures did you find profitable? I’m debating giving it a skim/read.
I will probably review both books at some point, and the book on Edwards later this week.
Here is a pro-tip on how to read books and remember a lot of what you read while also being able to relate what one book says with what another book says: get Anki (ankiweb.net). IIRC, their desktop app is free. Their iOS app is expensive but worth it. Copy down quotes that you would otherwise highlight or place into Evernote into Anki and review them as they are scheduled.
Don’t use Evernote because every review has to be done manually, won’t be done in a random order, can’t be used for recall, etc.
To make this process even easier, read Kindle books (or any digital book) where you can copy/paste from the ebook to Anki in 3 seconds. Digital books are usually a lot cheaper and don’t take up physical space. The usual problem cited in relation to ebooks, less retention, is solved by Anki.
Interesting, and thanks for the recommendation. I underline and annotate my books in large to facilitate rapid refreshing of my mind as to their contents. And switching to digital books would be a break with principle!
Yes, annotating works is an important part of learning new information (really, it is the process of elaboration). To my knowledge, there are no studies which show that highlighting per se significantly impacts your retention, it will allow you to locate the information more quickly. But to actually have the information at hand (memory) some of the best methods are repetition and spacing. This can be done manually, but Anki makes it effortless. (Annotation is possible and even has some advantages in digital books–same for highlighting.) Other tasks for learning, like interleaving, are also facilitated by a digital program like Anki.
cf. the work of Paul Kirschner’s book Ten Steps to Complex Learning… not that he recommends Anki, but he has good advice and a program like Anki makes it easy to incorporate that advice.
I found this book fascinating. I now want to begin following the Dewey Decimal System. I’m also encouraged by your commendation of reading widely, and of how we don’t need to read every part of every book. I need to get better at that last part, I think.
After watching this I asked a question on Curious Cat that I’m sure you won’t do a video on, so I’ll ask it here. How do you decide what books to read next? Do you keep a list of books you want to read somewhere? I have used Goodreads for this, but I’m beginning to question if Goodreads really helps all that much. I now have hundreds and hundreds of books marked as “to read” on Goodreads, and so I’m still sort of unsure what books I should be reading next.
Also, do you read a set number of pages per day from each book? How do you go about spending your daily 3–4 hours of reading?
Also (last question for now, I swear!): I recognize that it is important to read widely, but I often find that school assignments prevent me from reading the kinds of books I’d want to be reading. School can have me reading a bunch of books on one particular subject (for me: theology, and often not the good sort that I’d be inclined to reading, but a lot of what I regard as basically “junk” books). Any advice for students who feel like they don’t have the time to read widely and are being forced, as it were, to read narrowly for the duration of their academic careers?
Not that you’re asking me, but I had to smile at your last paragraph because I felt the exact same way in college. I couldn’t wait until I graduated and could read whatever I wanted. In retrospect, I would say that the texts picked by your professors likely are not junk. They are most likely worth reading and interacting with. Reading narrowly can be reading whatever you want. If you’re being forced to read outside of your wheel-house then look at is as another way of reading broadly.
Before a semester begins, ask the professor teaching the course what text he’ll be using and then use your winter or summer break to read something on the same subject that is by an author you like, trust, or respect. This will will allow you to read something that isn’t junk, in your estimation, while helping you learn about the subject and prepare you for deeper interaction.
Thanks John. I actually think my Bible college profs did a great job at assigning good, worthwhile readings and books. Seminary has been another story. I’ve had quite a few silly classes with superficial, un-engaging, unchallenging readings–stale, in the way Alastair mentions. I don’t call some of these books junk because I didn’t agree with them. Quite the contrary: the problem often was that the books were entirely within my wheel-house. Many readings were not challenging in ways that I think they ought to have been.
I don’t want to be cynical either though. I have been assigned some worthwhile stuff in seminary. And I also recognize that it would be all too easy for me to become parochial and lazy with the sorts of books I decide to read when I’m out of seminary. That’s part of why I’m curious how Alastair goes about deciding what books to read next. That’s precisely where I struggle with how to maintain an appropriate breadth, while also being intentional about reading truly good and worthwhile books.
In the first sentence I meant to say: I found this *video* fascinating.