Reading Analysis 2011-2012

16 07 2012

To read is to fly: it is to soar to a point of vantage which gives a view over wide terrains of history, human variety, ideas, shared experience and the fruits of many inquiries.’ – A.C. Grayling

What you put into you matters. Or so nutritionists tell us. Balance is essential. Too much of one food group and you end up fat, lethargic, unwell… or dead.

If that’s true of our physical wellbeing, might it not be true for our intellectual wellbeing?

Each year I try to plan my reading in order to ensure that I have a balanced diet: reading widely, reading in areas that will strengthen the areas I need to be strong in immediately, and reading things that stretch me and strengthen me for the next 5-10 years.

It’s geeky I know, but I’ve found it helpful over the past few years to plan what types of books I need to read over a year, keep a list of all the books I have read, and then analyse how balanced my reading has been. Each July I’ve set goals for how I want to divide up my reading in the next 12 months. And the time has come to analyse my reading from 2011-2012.

This year I thought my reading would take a hit. Having started an MA, I’ve been reading more articles or chapters of books rather than whole books. I haven’t listed those here, since I’ve dipped into well over a hundred books that I’ve never had the inclination or intention to finish. These are just the books I’ve read in full.

As it happens though, the number of books I’ve completed has increased rather than decreased, which I’m pretty happy with, especially since a number of the books are pretty enormous (Beale’s commentary on Revelation for example, was something of a beast!)

In July 2011 to July 2012 I completed 50 books; that is 3 more than last year. Annoyingly I didn’t quite make it to 1 book a week. I was tempted to read a couple of Mr Men this morning to tip me over, but resisted the urge…

82% of books were Christian, 18% secular. This is a bit out from what I had hoped. I’d originally aimed for a 70/30 split, but reading for an MA in Theology skewed that quite considerably.

The following table shows my goals for the year, how my reading broke down into each category, and the variance between my goals and achievements.

My theological reading has been more than I’d aimed for this year, on account of the fact that I wasn’t planning to study for an MA when I originally set my goals. A change of focus means that I’ve read no plays this year, and have spent less time reading books on Leadership or Skill Development. However, I’ve made a concerted effort to develop my writing this year, and have consequently found it useful to read ‘well written books’ rather than ‘books on writing well’; hence more novels.

Again, 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, your wish is my command.

All this has helped me to set goals for 2012-2013. I hope to apportion my reading roughly as follows:

And in case you’re curious, here’s a list of all the books I completed this year:

Barr, James – The Garden of Eden and the Hope of Immortality
Barnes, Julian – The Sense of an Ending
Barton, John (ed.) – The Cambridge Companion to Biblical Interpretation
Bauckham, Richard – The Bible in Politics
Beale, G.K. – The Book of Revelation (NIGTC)
Carson, D.A. – The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God
Cook, Jeff – Everything New
Cooper, John – Body, Soul and Life Everlasting
Copan, Paul – Is God a Moral Monster?
Coupland, Douglas – Miss Wyoming
Coupland, Douglas – Life Without God
DeWiit, Patrick – The Sisters Brothers
Fergusson and Fergusson, Dave and Jon – Exponential
Fergusson and Fergusson, Dave and Jon – The Big idea
Giles, Kevin – Jesus and the Father
Guinness, Os – The Call
Guinness, Michele – The Genius of Guinness
Gunton, Colin – The Promise of Trinitarian Theology
Hosier, Matthew – Sex Talks
Hosier, John – The Lamb, the Beast and the Devil
Keller, Timothy – Counterfeit Gods
Koukl, Gregory – Tactics
Lawrence, D.H. – Apocalypse
Laws, Sophie – In the Light of the Lamb
Lloyd-Jones, Martin – From Fear to Faith
Mamet, David – Writing in Restaurants
Mansfield, Stephen – Searching for God and Guinness
McEwan, Ian – The Innocent
McLaren, Brian – The Secret Message of Jesus
Mitchell, David – Cloud Atlas
Moore, Phil – Straight to the Heart of Revelation
Moraine, Jack – Healing Ministry: A Training Manual for Believers
Ponsonby, Simon – More
Rahner, Karl – On the Theology of Death
Rahner, Karl – The Trinity
Reeves, Michael – The Good God
Rollins, Peter – How (Not) to Speak About God
Rollins, Peter – Insurrection
Schüssler Fiorenza, Elisabeth – In Memory of Her
Schüssler Fiorenza, Elisabeth – Discipleship of Equals
Schüssler Fiorenza, Elisabeth – The Book of Revelation: Justice and Judgment
Smith, James K.A. – Desiring the Kingdom
Smith, James K.A. – Thinking in Tongues
Tyson, Jon – Rumours of God
Wilson, N.D. – Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl
Wilson, Andrew – If God Then What?
Wimber, John – Power Evangelism
Wodehouse, P.G. – Love Among the Chickens
Wright, Tom – Revelation for Everyone
Zacharias, Ravi – Recapture the Wonder

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The Widow

22 09 2011

Somewhere in my dim and distant past I studied drama. And I took it relatively seriously. And I tentatively entertained the vague notion that I may one day want to pursue a career in playwriting. Well… that notion has waned somewhat, but I have three scripts to show for it, in various states of dress. One completed and performed, one completed and submitted to theatres (two rejection letters received so far… counting the days until the next couple arrive…) and one awaiting a final edit before I kick it out of the nest and let it plummet down the cliff face towards obscurity.

Yes, since you asked (which I’m well aware you didn’t), you may read them if you wish (which I’m well aware you probably don’t) for the first two of them are online and publicly viewable.

The Bush Theatre runs a site called Bushgreen, which is a great online community allowing playwrights to publish their plays for other potential collaborators to view. It’s a great place to go to read work by new writers, and of course allows folks like me to sustain the hope that someone may stumble across us and consider us the next best thing to hit British theatre.

It is through Bushgreen that you may, if you feel so inclined, check out my latest play, recently uploaded. It’s entitled The Widow and is a one man play, around 75 minutes in length in which a young man, trying to come to terms with the death of his wife begins to plan for the future, taking comfort from his obsessions with language, envelopes and Bertrand Russell. It is a black comedy, exploring themes of bereavement, stubbornness, OCD, denial, hope, escapism, and the blurring of truth and fiction. The widower is a complex and thoroughly pretentious, self-absorbed character who, over the course of the play, becomes increasingly ‘under the influence’. Hopefully a challenging, but enjoyable role to play!

If you want to check it out, you’ll need to sign up and then search for ‘The Widow’ or just ask nicely and I may send you a copy. Feedback gratefully received*

_____

*Level of gratitude may vary!





Reading Analysis: 2010-2011

19 07 2011

A balanced diet is good for your health, because what you put into you matters. Too much of one food group and you will end up fat, lethargic, or with vitamin deficiencies. I would propose that the same is true of our reading…

What you put into you matters; it shapes what you become. And so for the past couple of years I’ve tried to get a balanced diet of reading, ensuring that I am:

  1. Reading widely
  2. Not simply reading in the categories I enjoy, but broadening my horizons to read things I wouldn’t naturally choose
  3. Reading books that will help me develop the skills I will require for the next 5-10 years.

It’s geeky, I know, but I’ve found it incredibly useful not only to chart what I’m reading, but then to set goals for the next year. I haven’t followed my goals slavishly… reading is an art (and a joy!) not a science, but it has helped me to identify areas I rarely read in, and to readdress the balance accordingly. With a limited amount of time to read, it’s too important for me to leave to chance…

If you wish, you can check out last year’s stats and book list, but here’s what I’ve found for July 2010-2011:

  • In 2010-2011 I started 55 books, of which I completed 47.
  • I completed one more book this year, and started fewer, which is great! I no longer have quite an enormous pile of half-read books languishing on my bedside table. Of course, there are plenty of other books I’ve dipped into for the odd chapter or fact… I haven’t bothered listing those here, only the books I started with a genuine intent to finish!
  • 77% of books were Christian, 23% secular
  • The following table shows my goals for the year, how my reading broke down into each category, and the variance between my goals and achievements*

  • From this I can see that I’ve read more ‘spiritual’ books than I had imagined or intended, but that’s no bad thing. Part of that has been necessity (researching for talks on prayer for example) and some of it was a healthy redressing of the balance from last year.
  • I’ve read far fewer books on ethics, apologetics and politics this year than I had intended. That is a weakness, and I would like to change that in this next year. I’ve already lined up a couple of apologetics books that I could do with reading to strengthen my thinking in that area.
  • I’ve spent little time reading books about marriage, though I’ve listened to plenty of talks on it this year, so hopefully I’ve still invested in it my marriage in other ways!!
  • My reading of drama has decreased this year. I’m happy with that. As I’ve thought long and hard about what I am likely to do with my life, I see less of a role for drama and the theatre, other than being a hobby. So I’ve felt less inclined to give time to it in my reading.
  • My ‘skill development’ figure is low and my ‘fiction’ figure high. This is due to the fact that I really want to develop in writing, and yet as I have read books on writing, I’ve realised that I can learn immeasurably more from just reading well-written books! Books on writing can be pretty turgid, self-indulgent, opinionated, and not overly helpful… So I’ve read a number of novels by skilled writers instead, and have enjoyed them immensely. I’m not usually one for reading fiction, but I’ve gone on recommendations from my wife, and she’s hit the nail on the head every time!
  • Again, 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, your wish is my command.
  • All this has helped me to set goals for 2011-2012. I hope to apportion my reading roughly as follows:

In case you’re curious, here’s the list of books I’ve completed this year:

As I’ve said previously, I’ve found this to be a helpful exercise, which has caused me to take my reading more seriously, and to be more strategic and forward looking about what I read. 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.”

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.





Reading Analysis (ii)

21 07 2010

Since I was asked… here’s the list of the books I’ve completed this year. Enjoy:

Beale G.K. The Temple and the Church’s Mission
Bell Rob Drops like Stars
Bell Rob Velvet Elvis
Blomberg Craig Neither Poverty nor Riches
Blumenthal Heston The Fat Duck Cookbook
Campbell Alexi Kaye Apologia
Camus Albert The Outsider
Carson D.A. Exegetical Fallacies
Carson D.A. How Long, O Lord?
Collins Francis The Language of God
Crouch Andy Culture Making
Eaton Michael Genesis 1-11
Esslin Martin The Theatre of the Absurd
Flew Anthony There is a God
Garnett Dameon Break Away
Green Michael I believe in Satan’s Downfall
Greene Graham Brighton Rock
Hague William William Wilberforce
Hays Richard The Moral Vision of the New Testament
Hays J. Daniel From Every People and nation
Ionesco Eugene The Chairs
King Stephen On Writing
Lewis C.S. The Problem of pain
Lindsay D. Michael Faith in the Halls of Power
Mamet David Glengarry Glen Ross
Marin Andrew Love is an Orientation
McGrath Alistair Doubts in Perspective
McGrath Alistair The Dawkins Delusion
Miller Donald Searching for God Knows What
Miller Donald A Million Miles in a Thousand Years
Nevin Norman C Should Christians Embrace Evolution
O’Brien Peter Ephesians
Obama Barack Dreams From My Father
Pawson David Defending Christian Zionism
Piper John The Supremacy of Christ in the Postmodern World
Pollock John The Billy Graham Story
Ravenhill Mark Over There
Rookmaaker H.R. Modern Art and the Death of a Culture
Sizer Stephen Zion’s Christian Soldiers
Stott John God’s New Society
Tharp Twyla The Creative Habit
Virgo Terry Does the Future Have a Church?
Wade Laura Posh
Wink Walter Naming the Powers
Wittgenstein Ludwig Philosophical Investigations
Yoder John Howard The Politics of Jesus




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.’
(Erasmus)

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.





Wash your mouth out with soap!

11 07 2010

I know the nature of blogging is that it tends to be fairly one way – author to audience. So forgive me for contravening the norm, but I’d like to ask you a few questions!

I’ve recently been pondering the problem of profanity in art. As an artist and a Christian (who is personally convinced that swearing is an unhelpful and unhealthy practice for a believer!) I’ve been wondering about where to draw the line with regard to what I would be willing to say for the sake of my art.

My thoughts are myriad. For the moment I’m giving nothing of my position away… But I wonder if I can ask you a few questions and get some alternative perspectives before I try to put my ponderings into words.

A few preliminary comments, and then the questions:

Comments

  • I’m after your opinions and gut reactions, but if you can back them up with experience and Scripture all the better
  • I’m primarily an actor and a playwright, but am happy to hear from people who engage in other disciplines.
  • I am mainly thinking of secular work. I am not imagining an F-Bomb in a kids’ nativity service!!
  • I am here concerned mostly with profanity, but there are of course inter-related subjects: nudity, violence, immorality of all sorts… Feel free to comment on those if you wish
  • When you comment, do let me know if you would rather I didn’t make your comments public
  • If you are going to include swear words in your comments, for illustrative purposes, please star out the middle letters

Questions

  • Is it ever ok for a Christian actor to swear?
  • Is it any worse for a Christian writer to swear than an actor, since he is then causing others to swear?
  • Are there some swear words that are more permissible than others? How can a performer/writer know where to draw the line?
  • How about blasphemy? Are there any circumstances under which it would be ok for a Christian to blaspheme whilst in character?
  • If you are in a play where others swear (even if you don’t have to) does your involvement condone their language? Are you guilty by association?

I look forward to hearing your thoughts!!