With a late summer birthday, I hit 55 years of age. It got me thinking about changes in my reading habit over the years.
I used to routinely have six or seven titles going at a time. Nowadays it’s enough to have three or four titles at a time in the reading hopper. Formerly I read voluminously, chasing footnotes, accumulating hundreds of books a year. I still read heavily, but not at the same pace. And I accumulate books more slowly and deliberately.
I think a change in my acquisitions habits came about 10 years ago, when I realized I had more than thirty boxes of books stored in the attic and a storage locker. And I was never getting books out of those boxes. I either went to the library or just bought a new copy of something I already owned but didn’t want to dig out. So I cleaned out the attic and the storage locker. And I started buying books at a pace of only one or two ahead of what I was currently reading.
For awhile I almost stopped reading fiction; now I always have a novel in the mix. Most of the theology and biblical studies I read are now read for work, which means they are titles I’m editing for Cascade. That still keeps that category at a robust pace of more than 40 titles a year.
As I age, I expect to move into a steadier diet of rereadings. I’ve already been in something of a habit of rereading, having thrice read Lindbeck’s The Nature of Doctrine and twice read Milbank’s Theology and Social Theory. I’ve consistently dipped in and out of familiar passages in Barth’s Dogmatics and the essays of Yoder and Hauerwas. But I expect rereading to increase, and I’m systematically saving on my shelves books I’ll want to return to, such as Augustine’s City of God, Dante’s Divine Comedy, the gothic novels of Sarah Waters, and many others. And I already find myself regularly returning to the short stories of Chekov, Tolstoy, and Flannery O’Connor. In addition, I’ve discovered a few reliable poets, and I return to them (Donne, Herbert, Hopkins, Dickinson, Wendell Berry) rather than read many new poets.
Another change: I’m still discovering new (to me) writers, but now these are often older writers I was simply unfamiliar with. Recently, for example, a friend put me on to the Catholic writer of the mid-twentieth century, Paul Horgan. I’m now greatly enjoying Horgan’s historical novel, A Distant Trumpet, and may well take up other works from Horgan’s pen.
So there have been developments, changes in my reading habits. But one constant remains: the joy of reading, the consistent reliability of books to stimulate, edify, amuse, inform, enlighten, distract, and so much else.