Friday, October 27, 2006

Reading Deliberately



(Top to Bottom: What Narcissism Means to Me, Tony Hoagland; Against All Enemies, Richard A. Clark; Wind in a Box, Terrance Hayes; Pictures That Got Small, Jim Brock; Breath, Phil Levine; Norton Anthology of African American Poetry, Henry Louis Gates et al.)


These books on my nightstand represent the books I should be reading.

In 2000, writer Bob Hostetler wrote a very good article that appeared in Poets & Writers magazine called “The Intentional Reader.” In it, he talks about being deliberate about what you read as a way of fueling your writing when you get stuck. And while it’s certainly important for fiction writers, being well versed in all sorts of subjects and forms is huge for a poet.

Hostetler creates an annual detailed booklist in which he chooses titles to entertain and to further his growth as a writer. His list consists of at least 20 must-read titles, leaving room for picks that he discovers throughout the year.

You can read his article for the full text, but to summarize, some of the subject areas he pulls from include:



  • one biographical title

  • at least one memoir

  • a healthy dose of at least four classics

  • a minimum of two writing books

  • at least one history book

  • at least two books by authors I’ve never read before

  • a minimum of one poetry book each year

  • a minimum of two books in my general field of writing expertise

  • a minimum of two books in a new discipline or field of interest
    at least one children’s book

  • two selections from a short list of books I’ve decided to re-read every few years, some serious, some life-changing, some fanciful

  • a recent addition to my plan has been the discovery of new works of international and inter-cultural literature

  • at least one book of great heft, the intimidating sort of book I might not otherwise read


I think it’s a great idea—reading deliberately. However, I don’t have time to read this many books in a year. But recently, I have thought about trying again for 2007, reading 12-16 books from specific genres in a year.

So, based on this list, what books would you recommend to others to add to their booklists for 2007? And what do you think about using a book list as a tool? I’ll post my preliminary list Sunday evening based on Hostetler’s article, your comments, and my poetic spin.

5 comments:

Nic Sebastian said...

Great idea! And keep your reading straight with Chain Reading http://www.chainreading.com

What you propose is the kind of organization I am slowly trying to inch my way towards. Chain Reading seems like a good tool so far. Cheers, Nic

bb said...

Sounds like a highly scientific approach to a wise concept of differingly specific and also wide, eclectic and challenging reading.

I go with the general concept, but I know my inner rebel would not allow my reading to be so highly ordered.

And a minimum of two books in my general field of writing expertise? I devour a poetry collection a week - that is the utter enchantment of being a poet!

My current reads? The NaNoWriMo guide 'No Plot? No Problem!' by Chris Baty, fantastic contemporary British poetry by Clare Shaw 'Straight Ahead', an eclectic mix of genre by Anne Carson in 'Decreation', thesis reading Jan Gorak's 'The Making of the Modern Canon' and I'm finally committing to a completed reading of Dickens's 'Great Expectations'.

Did I go on too much?!!!!

love x x x x x

January said...

Nic, thanks for the link. I'll check it out.

BB, I would have to revise the list based on my poetic likes/dislikes. "The Making of the Modern Canon" sounds interesting. Great list!

Catherine said...

I'd have to think seriously before I came up with a recommendation. One that comes to mind is Bill Bryson's "A Short History of Nearly Everything". I love poems that include a bit of science, and this book is a very entertaining overview of a lot of science. I'll check out that article and think about it some more. I'm currently reading quite a bit about England and Scotland as I plan to visit next year, and I read way way more poetry than a book a year.

bostonerin said...

zeI just used that article in my class last week...

I also love the idea of reading deliberately, although I'm not sure I could stick to such a rigid schedule. Although, I've been presently surprised when I step out of my comfort zone of reading and try something new. One of my favorites: King Leopold's Ghost (about Belgian colonialism in Africa and the rubber trade. Fascinating. Honest),

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