Unleashing the Geek: Reading Analysis

20 07 2010

‘When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes.’

What is your reading worth? How do you measure it?

By nature I’m not much into statistics. They wow me for a moment and then I forget them. The only ones that lodge in my head are the pointless ones. You know, only 30% of people can flare their nostrils, 307 tubes of smarties are eaten in the UK every minute… Those kind of useful statistics!

But when something is important, it’s worth going outside your comfort zone for. So a year ago, I decided I needed to take my reading more seriously. I was about to move to London and imagined I would end up with less time to read (in reality I have had far more!) so I felt I had to make my reading count.

First step: I began the year by reading a book on reading! How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler. To be honest it was quite dull – I wish I’d read the chapter that says ‘some books are dull, so not worth reading in full’ first… but if Mr Adler had put that at the beginning, I’m not convinced anyone would get past chapter 1. Self-preservation methinks! But it helped me to take my reading more seriously and learn how to do it better. Over the past year I’ve tried some new strategies for improving my reading-productivity. Some have worked, some haven’t. But all in all, I’m happy that this year I have read wider, learnt more, and hopefully retained more than in previous years.

Second step: For the first time I decided to keep a list of every book I read throughout the year so that I could assess how productive my reading was, where my blind spots were, and whether I was having a ‘balanced diet’ of reading.

The experience has been interesting, and now at the end of the year, I’ve been able to see not only what I’ve read, but which categories I’ve focussed on most, and which I’ve left by the wayside. So:

Third step: I plan to use this data now to readdress the focus of my reading in 2010-2011, to achieve a healthy, balanced diet. So on the off chance that somebody other than me would be even vaguely interested, this is what I found:

  • In 2009-2010 I started 66 books, of which I completed 46
  • 74% were Christian books whilst 26% were secular
  • Breaking it down into categories my reading was comprised of the following:*
    • Spiritual – 12% (By which I mean books that stretch my soul rather than just the mind. Devotional books and books on the spiritual disciplines)
    • Theology – 35% (Including commentaries and technical books)
    • Ethics/Politics/Social/Apologetics – 27%
    • Drama – 12% (Plays and books on theatre)
    • Skill-Development – 7% (Particularly on creativity, writing, reading)
    • Fiction – 2%
    • Marriage – 0% (!!)
    • Biography – 4%
    • Leadership – 1%
  • From this I can see that I have spent a good deal of my time reading books that stretch the mind, and not enough on ones that stretch the soul. I hope to readdress this in the coming year.
  • I’ve not invested any of my reading time in developing my marriage this year (though hopefully I have invested in other ways!) This needs readdressing.
  • Combined, I’ve given 20% of my reading over to development of skills and particularly creative skills (combining the skills, drama and leadership categories). I’m fairly happy with this, but would like to apportion it a bit differently going forward, reading more on leadership for example.
  • I couldn’t quite bring myself to post it here, for fear of irrevocably labelling myself a geek… but if you would prefer to see it represented as a pie chart, look no further.
  • All this has helped me to set goals for 2010-2011. I hope to apportion my reading roughly as follows:
    • Spiritual – 13%
    • Theology – 30%
    • Ethics/Politics/Social/Apologetics – 20%
    • Drama – 10%
    • Skill-Development – 10%
    • Fiction – 2%
    • Marriage – 5%
    • Biography – 5%
    • Leadership – 5%

I’ve found it to be a helpful exercise. It has caused me to take my reading more seriously, and to be more strategic and forward looking about what I read.** I’ve seen the fruits of it, particularly in terms of increased creative output. Socrates wrote: “Employ your time in improving yourself by other men’s writings so that you shall come easily by what others have laboured hard for.” If it is permissible to add and subtract words from Socrates, I would say that reading other men’s writings is a key to becoming what you are called to be. Think about where you want to be in a year. Think about the character traits you want ironed out, the skills you want to improve, then read the relevant books. Make your reading count. Think about the great men and women of history you want to learn from and emulate – and then read their biographies. Think about some of your edges that are blunt, and read books that will sharpen them. Think about your jagged edges and read books that will smooth them.

And then join me in public self-humiliation – post a pie chart!


* Given that there is often a significant amount of cross over between categories, I apportioned each book 3 points, which I could spread across the categories as I saw fit.

** Implicit in all of this, of course, is a recommendation to read the Bible… i haven’t even counted that in my analysis, but it is the book by which I measure all other books.



8 responses

20 07 2010
Mark Heath

hmmm, your pie chart is a lot more balanced than mine. I’ve read 29 books so far this year, 24 of which are commentaries.

I like the idea of trying to achieve some balance in the topics covered, although I haven’t taken my analysis quite as far as you. My intention is to read each year:
– at least one book by a dead author
– at least one book by someone outside my theological comfort zone
– at least one book on a topic I haven’t read anything on before
– at least one biography / church history book

PS how about posting some book reviews on your blog?

20 07 2010

Hi Mark – You read an incredible number of commentaries. I regularly check your blog when I need recommendations… First step: http://www.bestcommentaries.com second step http://www.wordandspirit.co.uk/blog

Yep, I ought to do some book reviews… will try to get round to that.

20 07 2010
Ian P

Hello. Interesting post. I’m curious to know what books you read? Are there any particular books you’d recommend in each of the categories? I.P.

20 07 2010

Thanks for the comment. Sure, I’ll post a list when I get a moment… L

21 07 2010
Max Weismann

We are a not-for-profit educational organization, founded by Mortimer Adler and we have recently made an exciting discovery–three years after writing the wonderfully expanded third edition of How to Read a Book, Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren made a series of thirteen 14-minute videos, lively discussing the art of reading. The videos were produced by Encyclopaedia Britannica. For reasons unknown, sometime after their original publication, these videos were lost.

Three hours with Mortimer Adler on one DVD. A must for libraries and classroom teaching the art of reading.

I cannot over exaggerate how instructive these programs are–we are so sure that you will agree, if you are not completely satisfied, we will refund your donation.

Please go here to see a clip and learn more:


21 07 2010

Clearly spam… but I thought I’d let it through as they obviously didn’t notice that I said Adler’s book was thoroughly dull!

19 07 2011
Reading Analysis: 2010-2011 « Liam and Helen's Blog

[…] you wish, you can check out last year’s stats and book list, but here’s what I’ve found for July […]

14 07 2013
My Reading: July 2012-2013 | Liam and Helen's Blog

[…] This year I shan’t bother to elaborate too much – feel free to read my previous attempts here, here and here – but I’ve personally found it helpful to plan roughly what I want to read each […]

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