Your Well-Read Life

 

 

 



Your Well-Read Life

 

 

 

 

Your Well-Read Life

 

 

 

Your Well-Read Life

 

 

 

 

Your Well-Read Life

 

 





Steve with his
faithful Ladi


On finding books, time, and
the way to your well-read life


Levenger Press: Your definition of well-read is different from traditional ones. It's not grounded in reading the classics or in a particular number of books. How then does one know if she or he is well read?

Steve Leveen: Being well-read is all about being in book love today, tomorrow, next week and always. It's that state you find yourself in when you can't wait to get back to the book you're reading—those books that keep you up at night and nudge you awake in the morning.

LP: How can time-starved people who barely have time to make dinner make more time for reading?

SL: Think about what it's like to be in romantic love and what happens to your schedule when you are. You do what you need to but you make time for love. Book love is similar: it makes it easy to find the time, because that time finds you. In your heart, you know it's the most important thing you're doing. And your heart has its reasons.

"The secret is to actively
choose your books. Most
people are rather passive
in their book selection: they
may have a handful of books
to read, but it's generally a
haphazard approach."

LP: There are so many books now to choose from. How do readers find the ones they'll fall in love with?

SL: The secret is to actively choose your books. Most people are rather passive in their book selection: they may have a handful of books to read, but it's generally a haphazard collection. I advocate a fundamentally different approach, where you look into yourself and identify your interests and passions. Then you search out the best books to fuel those interests and passions. Be an athlete, not a spectator.

LP: You recommend that readers keep a List of Candidates rather than a reading list. What's the difference?

SL: A reading list carries a sense of obligation, like those lists we were assigned as students.
A List of Candidates carries this important difference: you have the freedom of never having to read the book.

"Isn't it ironic that we often give up on people faster than we'll give up on a book? We need to cultivate new habits for our reading lives that allow us to be selective without guilt."

We should have scores—better yet, hundreds—of candidates on our list, connected to our interests and passions. Otherwise, we risk being caught in a devolving reading experience, where the books aren't that great and so our reading languishes. I was caught in this stage for many years. When you make a List of Candidates that you're excited about, your reading life and your whole life zoom up to a higher level.

LP: So from your List of Candidates you create a physical Library of Candidates of books you may decide to read. How have you arranged your own Library of Candidates?

SL: I have hundreds of candidate books and devote a whole wall to them at home, in my office. (Actually, it feels more like a library now.) I have different sections and label the shelves. The ones I'm most excited about reading go on the far right of each section. Under Biography right now, you'll find Florence Nightingale, St.-Exupery and Wodehouse. I recommend keeping candidates separate from those you've read, which go into your Living Library. Mine really does live for me—I frequently pull works off the shelf to check something and reinforce my memory.

LP: You talk about people giving themselves permission in their reading. What does this mean?

SL: At our workshops we hand out a list of permissions. One is to give yourself permission to give up on books that don't speak to you. Isn't it ironic that we often give up on people faster than we'll give up on a book?

LP: What do you mean when you say that we give up on people more quickly?

SL: Think of being at a cocktail party. If the first person you talk to strikes you as a bore, do you keep talking to them for the whole party because you started with them? Why should it be any different with books?

LP: What about the friend who says you simply must read a particular book...
and you hate it?

SL: Some of the best book recommendations come from friends who know us well—it's like having an informal book group. For friends who don't know us that well, it's good to ask them what they liked so much about the book and see if that resonates. Then get one or two more recommendations.

LP: Some people think that reading is a reclusive, nonsocial activity. But you say it offers a reason to connect with people. How?

SL: I find that reading makes me a more interested person. If I'm reading a book about sailing the Leeward Islands in the Caribbean, I'm eager to share what I learn with other sailing buffs and, conversely, to find out more about what they know on the subject. The more interests you're pursuing through your Library of Candidates, the larger your repertoire of ways to connect with other people.

LP: Why do people deny themselves the pleasures of reading?

SL: People suppress desires all the time in order to accomplish other goals. Then you get to a place in life where you just can't deny yourself any longer. And yet, you don't know how not to. I'm hoping that this book will help by offering practical techniques for people to reach a higher level in their lives, more quickly and with more confidence.

LP: You were one of those people who suppressed that desire. The irony about The Little Guide is that you've been a purveyor of "tools for serious readers" for 18 years but didn't consider yourself a serious reader until a couple of years ago. What caused you to want to read more?

"Once you listen to a book, you realize you can grasp inflections and nuances that escape you in print."

SL: I can answer that in one word: audiobooks. I suddenly found myself having the means to read serious books during otherwise uni-task time—when I was driving or washing the dishes. I started with novels by Frederick Forsyth and then found David McCullough. I was hooked—in head-over-heels book love.

LP: Many readers look upon audiobooks as not really reading. What are they missing?

SL: We tend to view reading as a silent, visual activity, so listening feels as if we're cheating.
And audiobooks seem like modern interlopers into the classic world of books. Yet storytelling predates printed books. The first stories were spoken, not written, and the first books were designed to be read aloud. Once you listen to a book, you realize you can grasp inflections and nuances that escape you in print and can sometimes absorb much more of what the author had in mind.

LP: There are other objections to audiobooks—someone doesn't like a narrator, for instance, or doesn't have a long commute so can't get into the story.

SL: I don't have a long commute, either. I listen to audiobooks when I'm exercising, washing the cars, doing chores around the house. And if one narrator doesn't work for you, try two or three others. Give up on that audiobook if it doesn't please you, but don't give up on the whole art form. Audiobooks can open up a whole new universe you couldn't experience any other way. They are only 25 years old, but what a stupendous gift to this and future generations.

LP: Do you read more than one book at a time?

SL: Yes, and I strongly recommend it. People have more than one mood and interest in any given time period. Some books may take you more than a year to read, but so what? I only read Wind from the Carolinas, a historical novel about the Bahamas, when I'm in the Bahamas. It has stretched over three years. I love it that way.

LP: You were initially skeptical of reading groups. What changed your mind?

SL: The universal statements I heard from the book group members I interviewed: "I read books I wouldn't have, and I love them" and "I get more out of the book when we discuss it." It's the capacity that a group has to stretch the individual. A great dialogue can elevate a book to a new level for the reader.

"My life changed from black and white to color when I seized my well-read life. And you can accomplish this with some simple techniques."

LP: You were so won over by reading groups that you started  your own. Tell us about that.

SL: There are a dozen guys in my group, and we meet once every other month in a restaurant. We call ourselves The World of Mules Book Group, from that Ogden Nash couplet: "In the world of mules, there are no rules." So far we're reading only nonfiction and had a fantastic discussion about Man's Search for Meaning.

LP: All guys?

SL: Mmmm, yes. And let me quickly say that there are lots of groups that are women only, and I respect that.

LP: The Little Guide is the keystone for a Well-Read Life  campaign that you've embarked  on. What's involved, and what do you hope to accomplish?

 SL: All across America there are millions of smart, capable people living in the shadow of books. I was one. My life changed from black and white to color when I seized my

"On one level a person's well-read
life is about books.
But ultimately your well-read life is about your life well-lived."

well-read life. And you can accomplish this with some simple techniques. It's like driving a car—it's a mystery until you do it a few times. I want to share what I've learned so that others can become the readers they want to be, and live their larger lives. What would you read if you knew you had time? What would you learn if you knew you could?

LP: Isn't there more to it than just techniques?

SL: Yes. There's the desire. I have great respect for people's ability to seize the lives they know in their bones is available to them. They just need an invitation to the dance, a hug and a bit of friendly advice. On one level a person's well-read life is about books. But ultimately your well-read life is about your life well-lived.