If there's obviously something self-serving about the co-founder and CEO of Levenger -- "offering tools for the serious reader" -- writing a book telling us to find ways to read more books, there's also something quite infectious about the enthusiasm Mr. Leveen, a born-again reader, brings to his little guide. Along the way he offers intelligent discussion of questions like what to read, whether to write in your books, and so forth, but mostly he encourages you to read and, importantly, listen to books, to make room for them in your life, no matter how busy.
It's good that the book is brief, because he very intentionally makes you want to put his down and move on to a classic, but two topics he might have touched on are finding books and picking versions of books. For the true bibliophile there's no better way to spend a Saturday than prowling through the book sales that almost every public library in America hosts, and many a church, retirement home, and college. The quality and condition varies wildly, but they're generally cheap and plentiful and there are always treasures lurking. The version of a book you buy can be important because they too vary so much. As John Nesbitt pointed out years ago in Megatrends, books will survive the electronic age because we enjoy the tactile sensation associated with them. Buy books that feel good in your hands and appeal to the eye. As I've gotten older I've found that means larger paperbacks instead of pocket size -- or even hardcovers if they're affordable (which those book sales we mentioned certainly help with) -- and books with larger type (though not Large Type) whenever possible. Never mind your eyesight and your age, it's just easier to read books with bigger print when you're not sure where you'll be reading: a plane, a waiting room, an easy chair but with a squirming kid in your lap, etc.. Especially when you're reading the classics, it's also worthwhile to look for editions with interesting introductory or biographical essays or even end notes and footnotes. And be sure that if the original was in a foreign language that the edition you buy is a good translation, which can make all the difference in the world as to whether you enjoy the book or not. For instance, the Modern Library is publishing a very nice series of classics, one of which I found recently is Stendahl's The Red and the Black translated by the great Burton Raffel. I've always gotten bogged down in older translations of the book, but as it Mr. Raffel who rendered the version of Don Quijote that I finally appreciated, I look forward to giving Stendahl another shot. Add in the intro by Diane Johnson, the uniformly handsome presentation the publisher gives the books, and the ridiculously low price, and you've got a must.
Mr. Leveen does share one anecdote that both discusses the quality of the edition you buy and captures his love of books; perhaps we'll close with it:
On a trip to Amherst, Massachusetts, Lori and I toured Emily Dickinson's home. I bought a nice hardcover volume of her poetry in the gift shop and inside it wrote the date that we bought it, then taped in the ticket stub from the tour. Walking in Dickinson's yard with Lori that lovely summer afternoon, I picked up a perfect oak leaf from the grass and put that inside, too. Now our book is not simply any copy of Emily Dickinson's poetry, but a special one with particulars, and even a leaf from the very yard that inspired her.Doesn't that make you want to grab a book that matters to you and start reading?
-BOOK SITE: Well-Read Life
-Well-Read Life (Levenger Books)
-ESSAY: Starting a Well-Read Life (Steve Leveen, 5/13/05, Beatrice.com)
-ESSAY: Giving Up On Books (Steve Leveen, Levenger Books)
-INTERVIEW: Radio Interview with Steve Leveen on The Little Guide to Your Well-Read Life: How to Get More Books in Your Life and More Life From Your Books (Written Voices)
-INTERVIEW: 'A Golden Age of Books': Picking a summer reading list has never been easier—or more guilt-free (Andrew B. Cohen, 6/24/05, Newsweek)
-ESSAY: Sweatin' to the classics: Get off your beach blanket. These days, reading is an action-sport for manly multitaskers. (Leah Price, June 26, 2005, Boston Globe)
-REVIEW: of The Little Guide to Your Well-Read Life (Roderick Nordell, CS Monitor)
-REVIEW: of The Little Guide to Your Well-Read Life (Brenda Hadenfeldt, About.com)
-REVIEW: of The Little Guide to Your Well-Read Life (ANN WICKER, Creative Loafing)
-REVIEW: of The Little Guide to Your Well-Read Life (DAVID MEHEGAN, The Boston Globe)
-REVIEW: of The Little Guide to Your Well-Read Life
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