So you’ve got your pocket knife. You’re doing deadlifts. You’ve picked up a bottle of Oban 14. What’s next? Well, are you reading regularly? Not blog posts and online news but actual books? You should be.
Guys Don’t Read
Based on survey information collected in 2015, half of American men 18 or over read fewer than 3 books per year. That is considerably lower than the median for the studious fairer sex. Reading exercises your mind, improves memory and vocabulary, increases testosterone, improves your writing, regulates the functioning of your pyloric valve, enhances sexual performance and extends . . . lifespan. Or at least it probably does some of those. Either way, it’s good for you.
You shouldn’t be reading just any book. If you’re going to defend the common good against the onslaught of progressivism, poor diet, inactive lifestyles and Hillary Clinton you’re going to need to read good books. Books that will help you develop your mind, improve your political, philosophical and theological chops, exercise your spiritual muscles and mold you into an interesting person with whom conversation is not a beating. You need to read the books that Donald Trump should have read.
How Much to Read?
And you shouldn’t be aiming for the weak male median of 3 books per year. You should be reading a book or two a month. Unless you’re reading long, difficult books. If you’re going to tackle The Red Horse, War and Peace and Don Quixote all in the same year you get a pass on the book per month rule. But if you’re reading a decent mix of fiction and nonfiction books of average length, a book per month (in addition to Scripture and spiritual reading which will be in smaller chunks) is very doable. But even at 12 books a year you would only be at the national mean (although you would be over the mean for men). So you can probably do better.
Can you listen to books? No. Well, you can listen to books that you otherwise wouldn’t read on your commute or when you’re waiting in line to get fingerprinted for your CHL. In fact, I think learning to concentrate on and comprehend audio books is a good skill to develop. But it doesn’t replace reading. You need to read. With an audio book you can’t puzzle over a passage, jot down a note in the margin and flip back to later to puzzle some more.
Make a Plan
So how do you go about reading 8 books for the remainder of 2016? You need a schedule. You should make a list of what you want to read and then make a list of what you actually read. Maybe even jot down a few thoughts when you finish a book. A schedule gives you a queue to start working through. And by cataloging what you’ve read you will ensure you’re on track to meet your goal. I’ve been cataloguing what I read since 2004 with a goal of reading 2 books per month. Now I can look back over a decade and see in which years I hit or exceeded my goal and in which years I didn’t. The list can also serve as a reminder to get back on track when I slack off and read too much easy fiction.
What Should You Read?
So what should you read? I’m a man of average intelligence with no particular intellectual skills or background in great books and have no problem filling my year with stimulating and fulfilling reads. So you should have no problem. But let me offer a few suggestions. Don’t go too heavy on difficult philosophical tomes. You should be reading them, but you need to mix it up. Personally, I find that if I alternate between difficult and easy reads I will read more during the year and not significantly decrease the number of difficult reads. If you decide to jump right in and read only Aristotle’s works on logic or read The Collected Works of Eric Voegelin, starting with volume one and trudging straight through to volume 34, you may become very creative in avoiding more than a few minutes with a book. Maybe you’re more disciplined than I, but it’s easier to take the mountain in pieces. You’re going to the top, but you’re aiming for what’s right in front of you. On a 12 book per year pace you should aim for three to six serious books. You, being more manly, might want to exceed that. But if you overdo it and start getting bogged down on a book, switch it up. Read something else to cleanse your palate and come back to the more difficult book. You don’t need to read one book at a time. I’ve usually got three or four going at once.
And don’t just read biographies, histories and books on current events. When guys read, that’s what they tend to read. Or maybe a spy thriller. Or a Lee Child book. Force yourself to read a few novels by dead white guys. They can still be modern, just not contemporary. I’m sure there are decent contemporary novels written. But if they’re any good they’ll still be around 10 to 20 years from now and can read them then. In the mean time you can read Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Herman Melville, Evelyn Waugh, William Faulkner, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, Walker Percy, Shusako Endo or Cormac McCarthy. Consider throwing in a few plays in as well: Shakespeare, Aeschylus, Euripides, Sophocles or Aristophanes. Try a book of short stories: Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ernest Hemmingway, Flannery O’Connor, Ray Bradbury or Edgar Alan Poe. Throw in some poetry. Well, maybe not any poetry.
Go Directly to the Source
And if you’re going to read history and biographies, give the older guys a chance. Read Thucydides, Herodotus, Livy and Plutarch. For other nonfiction try Aristotle, Plato, Cicero, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Augustine, St. Thomas More, Hillaire Belloc, G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis (who also has some great adult fiction) and Alasdair MacIntyre.
For difficult works, try to find version that includes some commentary. Or buy a single volume commentary. You can’t take Leo Paul de Alvarez’ course on Machievelli, but you can your read his translation of The Prince and his commentary. And who better to learn Aristotle from than the Angelic Doctor?
Finally, throw in a few of the books you find entertaining to read. You like spy thrillers? You like Robert E. Howard? You like Richard Stark? Throw one in here or there. The idea isn’t to torture yourself, but to slowly start chiseling away at the mountain of great books waiting to be read. I’ll occasionally even read a comic book or graphic novel. It’s not going to materially slow your pace for the year unless the one processed sugary sweet HFCS-laden guilty pleasure book becomes two or three and before you know it you’re not reading anything worthwhile.
Creating a Schedule
Below is a sample schedule you might consider for the remainder of 2016 on a 12 book per year pace. Although the overall pace is 12 per year that might mean some books take you two weeks, and others take you two months.
Black Mischief – Evelyn Waugh
The Republic – Plato
No Country for Old Men – Cormac McCarthy
The Handbook – Epictetus
A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole
The Orestia – Aeschylus
The Last Gentleman – Walker Percy
Good luck and if you have suggestions for good books leave them in the comments.