Reading projects?

In spite of the fact (or because of the fact?) that the semester has begun and I have less time for reading, and am therefore trying to keep the number of books I’m currently reading down to a minimum, I have felt a longing lately to start ridiculously long reading projects. For example, I’ve got The Oxford Book of Essays (edited by John Gross) that I’m tempted to begin reading in, and it’s a long book in itself, but I’d also like to read not just individual essays in the collection, but books by the authors I like along the way. I’d make it a big, long study in the essay. Doesn’t that sound like fun? And something that would take forever?

Or I could brush up on the history of philosophy as I’ve been thinking about for a while, except this time, study the authors in more depth rather than rushing through them as one must in a year-long course. Or could start reading novels in German again, because surely after a while I’d remember the vocabulary I once knew and reading them would get faster and be lots of fun? Or I could take this big fat anthology of 18C literature I’ve got and, maybe not read through it exactly, but do a study of the authors I don’t know very well?

I’m often torn between wanting to read systematically, and wanting to read at whim. Or I can put it this way — I’m torn between wanting to be an expert in one or two (or three or four) areas, and wanting to read a little bit of everything.

And the thing is, I’m not so terribly good at taking on long reading projects (Proust excepted, I suppose, but there I have the satisfaction of finishing a volume now and then). I get frustrated when I don’t finish books in a month or two, at the longest. Perhaps I need a “long-term reads” or “ongoing projects” category such as Danielle has; perhaps then I’d give myself permission to take my time. This is just one of the ways I’m sometimes at war with myself …


Filed under Books, Reading

10 responses to “Reading projects?

  1. Edd


    You amaze me at your level of reading skills as do several others like Danielle and Diana. I also have an old college friend in Danbury, Connecticut, who still reads the same now as she did in her younger years. I believe I have become a shallow reader with age now limiting my genres to Mysteries and Thrillers. Although when I do read the occasional non-fiction, I enjoy philosophy. I like to read a passage look up and ponder how a specific thought may reflect on my past and current life and life in general.

    Oh yes, don’t ask me how my German is doing. In college, I had to drop dating an English major and begin dating a Foreign Language major in order to pass the required three years of German.


  2. Yes, I think you need a long-term reading project and all of the ones you are thinking about sound great. An ongoing project doesn’t mean you still can’t read at whim, you can do both.


  3. hepzibah

    An ongoing project on one paticular author does sound great, doesn’t it? this semester I get to do an in depth study of all of Hawthorne’s books and I am very excited about it!


  4. I like having ongoing projects or long term reads, though I don’t always stick with them religiously. I tend to go back and forth between things. I really like the idea of studying the essay (and while I know you are busy with school now–I still think it would be fun to have a group reading them like Kate’s short story group). All your ideas sound good. I agree with Stefanie–one longer project along with other easier reading might be a way for you to accomplish both desires!


  5. So many books, so little time. I’m often frustrated that there is no way to read all I want to read.

    My favorite book of essays is Phillip Lopate’s The Art of the Personal Essay, and I have made various excursions into the authors over the last 10 years since first reading it. It has been a rewarding, if a slow and digressive activity. Whenever I happen upon something about my favorite authors in the anthology, (Seneca, Sei Shonagon, Montaigne, Maria Edgeworth, Charles Lamb, and currently M.F.K. Fisher) I find myself compelled to follow up.

    Can’t give up my mysteries or science fiction, however. Like you, I want a little bit of everything–nonfiction, fiction (all genres).


  6. verbivore

    This is something I really struggle with. I’m often overwhelmed with long-term reading ideas but it’s hard to schedule time for them regularly. Your ideas sound great so I do hope you pick one!


  7. Your German story is funny Edd! 🙂

    Stefanie — thanks for enabling me 🙂 I’ve decided to begin one — and I’m still tempted to add others.

    Your Hawthorne project sounds great Hepzibah! You’ll learn a ton, I’m sure.

    Danielle — not sticking to the project religiously is surely the way to make it work — so it doesn’t get boring. I think a group would be fun, although after Tilting at Windmills, I’m not sure I’m up to leading one — I mean, it was fun, but it took more energy than I have right now. But if anyone else wants to lead one ….

    Jenclair — I love The Art of the Personal Essay — it’s such a wonderful collection! I may get it out and look through it again.

    Verbivore — it’s good to know you struggle with this too — I sometimes think struggling about leisure reading is silly, but I just can’t help it!


  8. Becky

    I think the essays reading project sounds fascinating, and very tempting. And now I think I may have to track down The Art of the Personal Essay too!


  9. I’m glad you got Lopate’s book — it’s quite excellent, and I’m looking forward to reading the essays in it I haven’t gotten to yet.


  10. I don’t blame you for not wanting to lead a group!! It is a lot of work–especially when you are already busy. Maybe I’ll just watch your progress from the sidelines! 🙂


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