CORL (Check Off your Reading List) Challenge 2014 GB Challenges Reading Ruminations

[Saturday Reads] On Reading Lists and Reading at Whim


Myra here.

Every Saturday we hope to share with you our thoughts on reading and books. We thought that it would be good practice to reflect on our reading lives and our thoughts about reading in general. While on occasion, we would feature a few books in keeping with this, there would be a few posts where we will just write about our thoughts on read-alouds, libraries, reading journals, upcoming literary conferences, books that we are excited about, and just booklove miscellany in general.


Last week, I posed what I thought to be a scintillating question: “Do you (gasp) write on books?” inspired by my reading of Alan Jacobs’ The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction. This week, my reading-reflection is also inspired by Jacobs’ book as I now ask you, fellow readers, what your thoughts are about reading lists and the immensely popular notion of the 1001 books you must read before you die, or other similar lists.

I found this to be particularly curious especially given the fact that we are hosting a Check off your Reading List Challenge this 2014 and are part of the #mustreadin2014 community. We assume that fellow readers have their own reading lists that they would like to devour at one point or another. In Jacobs’ treatise, he took a deep and incisive stab at Adler and Van Doren’s How to Read a Book as they declared that one should read mainly for information and understanding, and only occasionally for entertainment.

Jacobs’ argument is this:


His claim: Read at Whim. He talked about individuals who plod through a list, unmindful of their readiness, their overall interest, their unique reading preferences – simply because an authority claimed that these are the books that they must read in their lifetime. Needless to say, Jacobs has an evident distaste for this, which is an understatement.

While I agree with him to some extent, especially as he disagreed with Harold Bloom who apparently called J. K. Rowling readers as “nonreaders,” see quote below – I took photos of the pages and edited them using an iPhone app:


and Jacobs’ own response here:


I find this to be a truth that resonates with me: “Read what gives you delight – at least most of the time – and do so without shame.”

Yet despite this, I recognize the value of having at the very least a reading theme and going through my own researched list in connection to that reading theme. This may be influenced by our training as social scientists (Iphigene, Fats, and myself all have degrees in psychology) and my tendency to qualitatively organize everything according to themes. Or it may also be because I am a teacher who thrives on a semblance of order and organization. I say semblance because we also do not allow our reading themes to dictate everything that we read. And when we do read outside of our theme and are deeply in love with the book, we try to find a way to fit this into our reading theme so we can feature it in our blog. Our themes are also pretty broad so that there is flexibility to maneuver our way around it.

Jacobs also cited from Walter Kirn, a graduate of Princeton, and how reading at Whim has transformed him and his views on books. While formerly, he read simply to impress others, mostly his teachers, he eventually understood how reading at random could be such an enriching experience:


Jacobs also argued, and I agree with this one that there are books that come upon you when you are ready for them: “she came upon a world of wonderful books when she was ready for them – when she could receive what they have to offer” (p. 25) which may be a defining moment for a reader. Then again, this does not necessarily negate the usefulness of having a flexible reading theme, allowing one to discover authors and books that one may not otherwise have known.

How about you, dear friends? Do you read from a list? How does your ‘list’ work? Do you agree with Jacobs that you should only Read at Whim?

Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

4 comments on “[Saturday Reads] On Reading Lists and Reading at Whim

  1. I like to use other people’s lists to expand my horizons. There are fields I have no problem finding something I like (sci-fi and fantasy), but I like to read a variety of genres. I’ll use something like the Pulitzer Prize list or London’s Big Read to try something I might not have heard of before (especially if it’s old). Sometimes, I hate the book and give up, but sometimes I find an absolute gem, so I find it worthwhile.


  2. Pingback: A Celebration of Summer Reading Plans #celebratelu | the dirigible plum

  3. Loved your post, Myra–discovered it just as I was finishing up my own quick post about my summer reading plans. Serendipity! This year, I have been much more intentional and focused in my reading goals, joined more challenges, created more lists. I’m having fun with it, though I think mostly what I enjoy is the community. I tend to go back and forth–one year more rigid in my approach to reading, the next total whimsy with no challenges or goals at all. After I finished my PhD, I don’t think I read anything from a list or created a reading goal for about 2 years. I was so burnt out on books I “should” read or “needed” to read. I do like your idea of a reading theme. I haven’t tried that before.


  4. Great post, Myra. It really made me think about how I read. I do both – I make a list and then read on a whim books that aren’t on the list. Then something from the list, then I wander off it again, then on, then off. When I think of it like that, it’s a wonder I get anything read.


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