The Directed Reader

One excellent thing about the social networking experience regarding books is that my reading queue is being filled with a wider range of books along with being a higher quality.

This was certainly not true for most of my life.  Since my father was a SF fan along with other varied interests it was his relating of some SF stories that caught my interest into diving into the home library. Isaac Asimov was my first great love and so I searched at the library for his books and then the other Grand Masters such as Heinlein, Clark, etc.  Mostly my reading was almost totally in this genre along with occasional books pushed by my Father.  So my High Schools years were mostly filled with reading the classics in this field along with what became classics such as The Mote in God’s Eye. So my tastes were fairly set as a SF geek with isolated exceptions such as Sherlock Holmes and my love of Dorothy L. Sayers’ books introduced to me by Masterpiece Theater.

During my career in the Navy SF remained my favorite genre, but the authors and books I read was quite haphazard. Shipboard libraries can be rather sparse and the same is true to some extent in base libraries. So my book selection habits started to be “What’s in the ‘What’s New’ section that looks interesting. I certainly found that being new was certainly not the same as being good. Though I certainly found some very good authors using this method. I also first started reading Fantasy – a genre I had previously avoided. There was the science snob in me that sneered at books with elves, dwarves, and magic. Unbelievably I never read The Lord of the Rings until I was in my forties (oh the shame and missed early enjoyment). I prided myself on preferring the “hard science” authors. Looking through the base library I saw some fantasy series where it seemed they had the whole collection of books. I always hated finding that a library only had parts of a series.  This series was The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant by Stephen R. Donaldson. It was hard for me to adapt to reading Fantasy, but I found it was worth it even if some of it was beyond me. My atheism strained against books with supernatural elements – though strangely this didn’t apply to horror.

The library “What’s New” for finding authors and then looking up their other books method lasted quite a while until my conversion phase. This time was also not very directed. I just started to read everything in the 200-280 (Dewey Decimal) section. This canvas of a large range of religion books narrowed over time as I was filtering down to Catholic authors as being the most worthwhile. Even in my total ignorance I was soon able to note the difference between Protestant and Catholic authors and while I found much worthwhile in Protestant authors, it just did not compare to the richness of Catholic authors. I certainly ran into some dud Catholic authors like Father McBrien and his two-part Catholicism – even as such a newbie I knew what he was writing just didn’t add up. Father Andrew Greeley also made my budding-theological-spidey-sense twinge.

A couple of things changed my book selection habits. One was a suggested reading list from a Catholic homeschool that I found quite helpful in finding authors to seek out. The other is of course the internet. This really changed my reading program to a much more directed reading program. Getting suggestions from people you came to trust in their book-selection judgment really opened up a much wider book-reading world to me. SF will always be my favorite with Fantasy coming in second. All those books I had labeled to get around to sometime, I was actually getting around to. Plus there was a massive list of suggested books I had never heard of – not surprising with my previously narrow focus. For example G.K. Chesterton who I quickly became addicted to and Orthodoxy is one of those rare books I read annually.

Catholic bloggers and Catholic radio also had a large role in more directed reading. Over the years Julie of Happy Catholic also introduced me to many books and I have become a book-stalker of Julie’s and Scott Danielson’s A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast. There aren’t any perpetual motion machines, but don’t tell that to my wish list which is constantly growing. At least it is a wish list with an overall higher quality of books. Goodreads has become another good source to feed my always hungry wish list. Plus of course this blog is another source since after Julie and Will suggested “The Engines of God” I picked that up and read it and quite enjoyed it.

Now if only I could get ahold of my younger self with a time machine and send my wish list back in time to get me started on it.

A young man who wishes to remain a sound atheist cannot be too careful of his reading. C.S. Lewis

I was way to careful in my reading.

About Jeff Miller

Jeff Miller is a former atheist who after spending forty years in the wilderness finds himself with both astonishment and joy a member of the Catholic Church. A retired Navy Chief who now makes his living as an application developer.

  • juliedavis

    I feel the same way and had many of the same influences, although my parents also read a lot of mysteries and thrillers so I am fairly well rounded in those selections from the 1970s on. I am constantly surprised by some new discovery that I could have read much earlier and that would have formed me intellectually. Oh the lost years. I’m making up for them as fast as I can (she said, picking up Bleak House again).

  • willduquette

    It’s funny, but my literary tests owe almost nothing to my parents—a fair amount to my siblings, but not to my parents. I got Tolkien from my siblings, along with a lot of other science fiction; but I’ve always gone out and found my own stuff. Recently I’m reading a lot of what Julie’s been reading, but that’s unusual; although I’ve been writing book reviews since 1997, I haven’t often looked at other folk’s reviews.


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