I have been a voracious reader for as long as I can remember. Even as a young child, my TV time was severely limited, so my nose was almost always in a book. Sounds almost quaint these days!
In the process of tidying our empty nest a bit this weekend, I decided to relieve my bookshelves of any books I did not think I was likely to read or refer to again. You see, while I used to believe that owning an interesting library was the sign of an educated person, I have recently come around to the idea that having stacks and stacks of books may actually be the trademark of the pack rat. So, deciding that traveling light was the way to go, I pulled the books from their various shelves and set them on the floor in preparation for boxing.
I decided to take a picture of the books prior to putting them in boxes so that I could send it to places and/or people I would potentially donate the books to. Way easier than writing up a list! Here’s the picture:
Looking at this pile, I came to the realization that while I had read all of these books, there were several that I could barely recall, if at all. There were also many of them that had informed, illuminated, or entertained me quite profoundly. But, I’ll have to say, my primary feeling was one of regret and perhaps slight embarrassment about all this information that I had ingested, but to a large degree had forgotten.
This feeling got me to thinking about my younger days, when my brain did not seem to be such a sieve. Of course, back in those days of college and before, there was often a lot at stake, such as upcoming exams, papers, classroom discussions, and the like. And, back then, I would usually take notes, use a highlighter, or write a quick summary so as to jog my memory later when wanted or required. So, I’ve decided that perhaps I should start using those techniques again!
I’m afraid that I don’t have the patience these days to read with a highlighter or pen in my hand all the time. So I have decided to do a quick summary of each book I read. I will do that here, on chateaubeeks.com, as it just seems like the easiest and most accessible place to put it. That way, years later, if I am trying to remember what book it was that I liked so much about, say, the Brooklyn Bridge, I will have a shot at finding it!
When I choose a book, I am generally looking for one of three things, or some combination of the three. In no particular order, I am seeking some combination of  entertainment,  insight, or  knowledge. So I am going to record how the book did in each of these three areas, then jot down a few notes. We’ll see how it goes!
Regarding Entertainment, I will grade each book as follows, from high to low:
- Exhilarating: This is a book that is such a pleasure to read that it is difficult to put down. It is so fun, so deeply moving, or so well written that I hate to see it end. It might make me laugh out loud or pause to allow tears to clear from my eyes.
- Engaging: I very much enjoyed reading the book and am likely to recommend it to others. It usually has a great story or great characters to separate it from the pack. It is good enough that it makes me set aside other things to spend extra time reading it.
- Pleasant: A good book, but not a great read. A nice story. On the nonfiction side, a book that gets boring from time to time. I might find myself dozing off from time to time, or watching The Voice instead of reading.
- Challenging: A book that is tough to get through, takes real effort to stick with it. On the nonfiction side it usually compensates by tackling material I am very eager to understand, so am willing to tough it out. On the fiction side, it is Faulkner, or Joyce. Often I just can’t make myself finish, even though I know I should.
Regarding Insight, here are the grades, again from high to low:
- Life Altering: This is a book that made me change the way I think about the world. Its impact hangs in my consciousness for weeks, months or years.
- Eye Opening: This provided insights that made me see things in a different way. It may have helped me understand the views of other, or understand why things are the way they are.
- Astute: The insight or insights provided by this book are significant and non-obvious. These are insights that are worth considering but are unlikely to change my view of the world.
- Incidental: I did not get any significant insights from the book.
Finally, on Knowledge, I will assign one of the following:
- Revelatory: This book provided me with knowledge that I found profoundly interesting, extremely useful, or intensely edifying.
- Enlightening: I learned lots of new interesting or useful things reading this book.
- Supplementary: This book provided nuggets of new knowledge that helped round out my knowledge of a subject with which I am already somewhat familiar.
- Incidental: I really did not gain any significant knowledge from this book.
You can assume that any book that does not merit even one-star in any category (i.e. impossible to read, trivial and obvious, full of misinformation) will get abandoned rather than finished, so will not make be written up. And this does, in fact, happen!
To test my methodology I decided to write up three books which I have read recently, each of which is “five stars” in one of the categories: Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner, The Cave and the Light by Arthur Herman, and The Rise and Fall of American Growth by Robert J. Gordon.
Click here to read about these books, all three of which I found to be exceptional. And, if you happen to have read any of these books, comment and let me know if you agree or disagree with my assessment!
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