Home > Reading is great, reading with purpose is infinitely greater.

Reading is great, reading with purpose is infinitely greater.

July 29th, 2009 - written by Brian Utley

Last night I discovered myself thinking, “Only 20 books left to choose”. This is after I purchased book #32, The World Without Us, by Alan Weisman. After a recent shift in thinking, described here, I realized that I need to spend more time in the selection of literature, and less time counting down the pages, the books. With this new focus on quality and not necessarily quantity (although this is a numbers goal), I have renewed energy and more determination to not only read books as an attempt at loftier pursuits, but also to consider that this alone is not enough. Reading is great. Reading with purpose is infinitely greater.

I have been mistaking goals for purpose. Does a runner set a marathon goal for the sake of the marathon? Does the autobiographer set a publication goal for the sake of publication? I would argue that they do not. I would argue that the training, whether it be running or writing, is the reward. To train for a marathon you need progress, and progress is the point of the goal. For goals to matter, one has to care about not just getting from A to Z, but you have to want the B through Y. Without that, what’s the point of Z?

The point of my goal isn’t just to read. My goal is to progress as a person by reading important and influential books that were intended to create this progression in society. Is there a loftier goal among writers than that to teach? Looking back on the year so far, I noticed that I haven’t been doing that. I only have 20 books left. They need to count, so to speak.

I’ve been asked several times this year how I choose my books. I don’t really have an answer. A book will catch my eye, or be mentioned in another book, or recommended by someone whose judgement I trust. But there never was a plan, and I’ve made poor choices. With the last 20 books will come a plan of sorts. I’ve already began collecting titles that I feel are important, including:

  • Man’s Search For Meaning
  • Pilgrim At Tinker Creek
  • Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand
  • The Education of Henry James
  • The Double Helix
  • The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays
  • The Economy of Cities

The list is getting long, longer than what I’ve listed above, and will be tapered down, but there is a plan. Only 20 books left. ONLY 20.

This site has helped with something I hadn’t planned on, accountability. It may be a false accountability, I don’t know. But I do feel accountable and have felt accountable since January. I made a statement on this website about my intentions for 2009 and I felt tied to that. At times it hasn’t been the easiest thing to do, this reading. At times it felt like the most natural thing in the world to do. And, at times, it feels like something I’ll never stop doing. This is now habit. And if it takes 21 days to break a habit, well 21 days without reading is unlikely. I see myself in January, 2010, blogging “Let’s do it again!”. But other times, not a chance.

But I feel an odd sense of someone looking over my shoulder when I choose my books now. Someone over my shoulder analyzing my choices and someone in my head always asking THE question, “Is This Book IMPORTANT?”. Several times I’ll notice a book, a seemingly really interesting book, but then decide it isn’t important, it’s a book for now, not a book for always.

Am I taking this too seriously? Am I analyzing this to death? Possibly. Probably. Even my father, after my spewing thoughts of importance and accountability at him, suggested a Dean Koontz, in jest, something easy and entertaining. My mother, a 12-page children’s book by John Lithgow. I countered with Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim At Tinkers Creek, at which point her eyes widened and she hurried off, returning with a well-worn and heavily annotated copy of the Pulitzer Prize winning masterpiece. They worry over my all-or-nothing approach to things, but they also understand the excitement of not just achieving difficult goals, but also understand the sensation of being pleasantly lost in a sea of words.

With all this in mind, I start The World Without Us, and finding the answer to the question posed in the introductory chapter:

Is it possible that, instead of heaving a huge biological sigh of relief, the world without us would miss us?

I’m curious, as well.

Reading is great, reading with purpose is infinitely greater.

Alan Weisman, The World WIthout Us ,

  1. July 29th, 2009 at 10:54 | #1

    You should put David Foster Wallace on your list. Either his fiction or nonfiction. It’s all important, urgent, hilarious, profoundly sad, reflective, post-modern, and, well, great. That he took his own life last September adds a certain weight to his work. Fantastic project, you have here, Mr. Utley. Bravo, bravo, bravo…

  2. Brian Utley
    July 29th, 2009 at 11:15 | #2

    In Hoc brother.

    I tackled Infinite Jest in my youth…..THAT was a rough 3 months.

    Any recs?

  3. July 30th, 2009 at 16:44 | #3

    Man’s Search For Meaning is an absolute must. I am happy to see it on your list! It has so much insight—about what motivates people go on living, even under the most impossible of circumstances (like being in a nazi concentration camp). The lessons learned about what makes a survivor and what is lacking in those that choose to give up can be applied to all of life’s circumstances.

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