A summer reading project

About one of my students:

Evan Johnson boarded the Washington, D.C. metro train at 5:15 a.m., surrounded by sleepy, somber commuters. One girl on his left read The Hunger Games on her Kindle, while the girl in front of him read the same novel in paperback.

Ear buds in, rocking with the speeding metro, they were oblivious to the fact that “they were both entering the same fantasy world, while only a few feet apart,” Johnson said. “I often wondered what might happen if people simply looked around at other readers and discussed what they were reading.”

Anyone discussing books with Johnson might feel a little inadequate. When he stepped on that commuter train last year, Johnson, 20, was speeding his way through his 40th book of the summer.

Between May 16 and August 12, 2011, Johnson read one book a day – 94 books and 19,276 pages, an average of 217 pages per day. On some days he finished two books.

As a sophomore at Patrick Henry College, Johnson’s professors constantly gave him reading suggestions. His classmates often rolled their eyes and ignored similar suggestions, too busy with homework and essays to imagine recreational reading. But Johnson began to compile a reading list, jotting down dozens of titles during the semester. He vowed he would read them when he had an opportunity.

That summer, Johnson accepted an internship in Washington and moved to a new apartment in Falls Church, Va. Away from the distractions and requirements of school, he had the time he needed to start working through his list.

After counting the number of books he wanted to read, Johnson realized he would have to finish a book a day in order to make a good dent in the list. He set a goal, and committed his summer to reaching it.

Throughout the summer, the local library provided Johnson with 20 books via inter-library loan. The librarian’s eyes widened with surprise when he returned an 800-page, two-volume set of The Count of Monte Cristo after only three days. Johnson’s titles were rather eclectic, with authors ranging from Chinese Christian Watchman Nee to U.S. Marine David J. Danelo.

Every day, Johnson woke at 4 a.m. He ate a ham and cheese omelet, walked two miles to the metro, and caught the 5:15 a.m. train. He would set his laptop bag across his knees, pull out a book and read.

People at the bus stop often asked Johnson how he had time to read. He wondered how they could spend their commute doing nothing or playing “Angry Birds.”

“Reading taught me just how much time is often wasted everyday,” Johnson said. “People talk about how wasteful Americans are with stuff, water, money, et cetera. I also would add that we are incredibly wasteful with time.”

via The summer of books | World on Campus: news for college students from a Christian perspective..

The full article at the link (free registration required) gives his book list, an eclectic–that is to say, a liberal arts–assortment of titles on all kinds of topics.  (He even included one by me!)

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Med Student

    No matter how busy I am, I always try to find time for some recreational reading each day. It’s very relaxing, and a good way to pass time on the bus/train. I usually don’t get through a book a day though…

  • Med Student

    No matter how busy I am, I always try to find time for some recreational reading each day. It’s very relaxing, and a good way to pass time on the bus/train. I usually don’t get through a book a day though…

  • Peter S.

    I do all my reading (quite a lot) on the bus/train. Often with the help of classical music on my iPod to screen out external distractions. I am a distractable person, and it helps that I do not have any “smart” devices. I also do not have an electronic reading device.

  • Peter S.

    I do all my reading (quite a lot) on the bus/train. Often with the help of classical music on my iPod to screen out external distractions. I am a distractable person, and it helps that I do not have any “smart” devices. I also do not have an electronic reading device.

  • WebMonk

    This is what popped to mind during the opening paragraph of what Dr. Veith mentioned: http://xkcd.com/610/

    (read the link first)

    Everyone thinks that same sort of thought while riding public transit and no one actually does anything about it. Like, tap the two people and point out to them that they’re reading the same work. I’m just as guilty as everyone else on this but it still gives me a giggle every time someone brings up this sort of thing: “Why don’t people just wake up to what’s around them?”
    :-D

  • WebMonk

    This is what popped to mind during the opening paragraph of what Dr. Veith mentioned: http://xkcd.com/610/

    (read the link first)

    Everyone thinks that same sort of thought while riding public transit and no one actually does anything about it. Like, tap the two people and point out to them that they’re reading the same work. I’m just as guilty as everyone else on this but it still gives me a giggle every time someone brings up this sort of thing: “Why don’t people just wake up to what’s around them?”
    :-D

  • Peter S.

    Did you see the text for the XKCD comic WebMonk linked to? “Hey, what are the odds — five Ayn Rand fans on the same train! Must be going to a convention.”

  • Peter S.

    Did you see the text for the XKCD comic WebMonk linked to? “Hey, what are the odds — five Ayn Rand fans on the same train! Must be going to a convention.”

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Ah, I love XKCD.

    I once did the constant reading thing. I’ve always been a reader, but once in High School, I did just that – read about 30-odd book in one month – and I’m talking books here, not novella’s. From say 180 page literature all the way to a 400-page plus tome on Luther.

    The thing though is, I find that when I rush through my reading, I retain less. Same thing when I go to slow. I’m not sure what the optimal time is though, and I haven’t the opportunity to experiment – too busy currently!

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Ah, I love XKCD.

    I once did the constant reading thing. I’ve always been a reader, but once in High School, I did just that – read about 30-odd book in one month – and I’m talking books here, not novella’s. From say 180 page literature all the way to a 400-page plus tome on Luther.

    The thing though is, I find that when I rush through my reading, I retain less. Same thing when I go to slow. I’m not sure what the optimal time is though, and I haven’t the opportunity to experiment – too busy currently!


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