Sunday, August 26, 2018

Sunday Afternoon Tea - The Value of Focused Reading

I have always been a prolific reader and I never thought anything about skipping from one book to another as one was finished.  I was definitely a "love the one you are with" kind of bookish girl.  Honestly, I never thought of any other way to enjoy books outside of a classroom.

Then somewhere in my 20s, I read a suggestion by an author I admired... and it has been so long ago I cannot remember who it was... to set aside times for focused reading.  Focused reading would be to read three or more books in a row before going on to another author or subject. 

The author shared how focused reading helped them to both appreciate certain authors works and continue their education throughout their life.  They continued to read books just for the enjoyment but they would also include times of focused reading as part of their reading life.

Focused reading would include:
1) Read numerous fiction books by the same author.
2) Read numerous nonfiction books by the same author.
3) Read numerous books on a particular time in history.
4) Read numerous books on a particular subject.

Focused Reading of Fiction and Nonfiction Books By the Same Author
My first attempt, as I recall, was made easy by reading and rereading some books written by Edith Schaeffer.  I already had a good sized collection of her books and added to them for years after that.  However, I hadn't read a number of books one right after the other.  It did help to get a better understanding of their ministry and her message, especially to Christian women.

I have enjoyed a time of focused reading for other authors such as Anne Morrow Lindbergh (her diaries and other nonfiction books), Elizabeth George (the Bible teacher), Madeleine L'Engle (nonfiction and fiction), and so many others that there is not enough room to mention here. There are some authors that I will read any book they write.

Of course, as for fiction authors, the easiest would be to read (or reread) a series when available.  It is the literary equivalent of binge watching of a TV series season on Netflix.  I have read a few books in a series quickly when I began reading the series after a few titles had been published.

That happened with the Mitford series, I heard about it after the first few books had been written.  As a teenager, my daughter read a few of the different series of books by Brock and Bodie Thoene having to do with WWII and the founding of Israel. Most had been written already and for those that had not, it was always a difficult wait until the next book in the series was published.  I have not read them but that would be a series I know I would like.

I have enjoyed periods of focused fiction reading with books by authors such as Madeleine L'Engle ("The Time Books") and C. S. Lewis (Narnia stories).

Focused Reading On a Particular Subject or Time in History.
In my former life, I worked in Organization Development and there were a few years of focused reading on the subject of corporations, how they work, and how to be better at my job.  I was self educated in the subject by reading good books and found I could keep up easily with the people who had graduate degrees in the field.  So often people studied for their advanced degrees by reading, anyway.

My bookshelf at various times of my adult life will indicate an interest in interior decoration, cooking, baking, and the general field of homemaking.  There are some books which have remained on my shelves for decades while some have been given to my daughter or sent to charity to be replaced by more recent authors on the subjects. 

We can become very knowledgeable on a wide variety of subjects by focused reading of those books people who are proficient in the field are also reading.  It is never too late to begin learning all about a subject of interest.  I have a Mary Englebreit cutout on the wall over the desk that states "It is Never Too Late to Be What You Might Have Been". 

Certainly it is too late for some interests... like ballet or gymnastics... but even then we can learn more about them and the people who excelled in the fields.  But it is not too late to learn about space travel, the history of the Middle East, WWI and II, gourmet cooking, bread baking, water color painting... just to name a few.

Of course, some of these subjects will require the doing as well as the reading for one must get their hands deep into dough to knead it and one must pick up a brush and take paint to canvas to become proficient but it can all start by reading books.

Where Focused Reading Has Taken Me
One of the fun aspects of focused reading can be the rabbit trails it can leads us down, around, and through at times. Such has happened to me through the years.

In an interview, the biographer David McCullough was asked how he came up with the idea for the subjects he wanted to write about.  He stated that the ideas always came from research he either had done for previous books or was doing at the time.  For instance, in the research for writing John Adams, he collected so much information that he followed it with the book 1776.

[Note: McCullough had originally started writing a book about Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, thinking he would find Adams boring.  However, his research for the book caused him to see Adams was such an important and interesting part of the Revolution that he decided to focus only on Adams in the first book.]

This is how I came to the focused reading about Jonathan Edwards, which I called "Stalking Jonathan Edwards" when writing about it on the blog.  I have always been interested in the American Revolution and it was one of my first areas of focused reading. 

I can't remember a time that I wasn't curious about what led up to the Revolution and the amazing story of how a simple British colony in the New World actually won over the greatest superpower of the time.

Somewhere in that reading, I learned that many historians saw a link between the Great Awakening and the ideas which led up to the American Revolution.  Learning of that, I read off and on about the subject and learned of the importance of Jonathan Edwards, whom I only knew from the sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God".

One day I was visiting my daughter in New England when I picked up a book by Noel Piper titled Faithful Women & Their Extraordinary God that had a chapter about Sarah Edwards.  That chapter peaked my interest in both Jonathan and Sarah, which led me to read Marriage To a Difficult Man... a very interesting book that Piper mentioned quite often.

I became so interested in them and the Great Awakening, that I read more books by and about Jonathan Edwards until I began to think of him as a real life mentor and friend.  That is the affect of focused reading.

Do I have any focused reading planned in the future?  I plan to once again begin reading about Jonathan Edwards and his family soon.  I own three books by Alexander Solzhenitsyn, including a first edition English translation of The Gulag Archipelago, purchased for a dollar at a library sale.  They are waiting on a shelf until I am in a mood for serious reading. 

His writing had a significant affect on people in the former Soviet Union and thus, world history.  I remember the warning he gave to the American people as he decided to leave his exile in America and return to his homeland when it became possible.  So much of what he saw coming to the States was thought impossible at that time and has already happened.

I have all the diaries of Anne Morrow Lindbergh stacked on a shelf, also purchased for a dollar a book at various library sales.  I would love to reread them at this age... having read them the first time when I was very young.  Her writing is beautiful, even in her diaries.  I doubt most people realize she was one of the most famous women in the world in her generation and I became interested in her diaries after reading Gifts From the Sea... a volume of which resides on my desk next to my address book... as a very young woman.

I have a series of Churchill's biographies on the Kindle, either purchased very cheap (like 99 cents) or they were free at the time for some historical occasion.  I knew I would love to read them someday so they are parked in the Amazon Cloud, waiting for that day. 

When it comes to books, there are so many waiting that I could never read all of them, even if I counted only those waiting on the Kindle.  However, I do enjoy having options available for future focused reading, whether books by favorite authors or books about subjects of interest.   

What is that famous saying, "So many books and so little time"?  I agree.

Mentioned in this Blog Post
John Adams... here.
1776... here.
Faithful Women & Their Extraordinary God... here.
Marriage to a Difficult Man (third party)... here and here.
Madeline L'Engle's Time Quintet... here.
The Narnia Books... here (boxed set) and here (in one volume).
The Gulag Archipelago ... here.
Gifts From the Sea... here.

Disclaimer:  Most links to are Associate links.

Image:  Kim Sung, Book Shop


Anonymous said...

Oh this reminded me of something I used to do as a teen , that I LOVED , and have forgotten about ..I would gather 2 or 3 books , usually fiction , or a mix, about the same time period ..and read all of them at once , a chapter or two from one and then another book etc until they were all finished on the same day ....the books expanded , so many more characters and situations ...especially if I had a non fiction book about the same time period thrown in I was likely to have the same historical figures showing up in all the books. I do NOT think you would call this FOCUSED reading ! LOL but I had forgotten how I loved felt less focused on the stories but made the time period really come alive .Thanks for reminding me ,I bet I couldn't read that way anymore.Karen

Vee said...

Reading a series of books is the closest I have come to focused reading. I have so many of the books you’ve mentioned. The Thoene books were some my mother recommended, but I never have read them. Also have never given Anne Morrow Lindberg a chance since I adore E.B. White and he was not a fan. This strikes me as amusing now...that I have allowed his opinion to color my own. Must be a token of my esteem for him. You have piqued my interest once again. You so realize the influence you have been on my reading material. ☺️

Little Penpen said...

This is a wonderful post!! Recently, I have found several authors that I find myself trying to read more of their books. I guess they have succeeded in making me want more. Right now, it's Fannie Flagg.... very light hearted, funny,though sweet stories. I tend to rush from book to book and have a difficult time remembering what I read and who wrote what. GDonna blog had a similar post about reading (and other things) recently and how what we read and do should be meaningful; not just filler food. Thanks for a very thought provoking post.

Kay said...

One thing I really enjoy is to take a favourite author and read all of their books one after the other, it is so satisfying to know you are in for a world of enjoyment. x

Deanna Rabe - Creekside Cottage Blog said...

I've never realized that there was a term for this, "focused reading!" I may need to give this a go sometime soon with a single author, that is not in a series. I love that Thoene series (actually two series)! You would love them. I love the Mitford books, and came to them later, so I was lucky to get to read four books, before having to wait for the next one!

I've never read Anne Morrow Lindburgh, and not much Madeline L'Engle, perhaps only 'A Wrinkle in Time." I was such a twaddle reader when I was a girl, I missed some great books!

I think I may do my focused reading with Gladys Tabor. I have several of her books!

Shelley E said...

Thank you for a wonderful article. I love to read and I do jump from one book to the other without really having any plan. Focused reading sounds like a great way to explore new authors as well as read more non-fiction.

Rebecca said...

Of late, I've done much focused reading on the lives of early church fathers +and mothers). This is a subject that was not part of my spiritual tradition, but I'm making up for it now! From time to time, I very read all I can find by one author, too--like Miss Read, G. Taber, Alexandra Stoddard, etc.