Tom Gilson

Reading Old Books in 2020

Old books on a library shelf
This entry is part 1 of 1 in the series Old Books


Series: Old Books

  • Reading Old Books in 2020

I’ve made a commitment to read at least one old book a month in 2020. With the help of Facebook friends, I’ve developed this list:

MonthAuthor(s)Title
1DickensBleak House
2WhatelyHistoric Doubts Relative to Napoleon Bonaparte
2YutangFrom Pagan to Christian
3WildeThe Picture of Dorian Gray
4DoddridgeThe Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul
5SwiftGulliver’s Travels
6AristotleNicomachean Ethics
7EliotMiddlemarch
8MurrayHumility
8OvidMetamorphoses
9AugustineThe City of God
10FoundersThe Federalist/Antifederalist Papers
11AustenEmma
12ChaucerCanterbury Tales

I’m also going to add in a couple of 20th century books by significant black authors, probably Zora Neale Hurston and James Baldwin. Details to be determined.

I reserve the right to change my mind in the middle of a book if I’m not enjoying it, and switch to another one. That happened to me with The Iliad, and I’m not in this to beat myself up.

Why Read Old Books?

Why read these books? I’ve answered already on The Stream, but I omitted some reasons there. First and most important, it’s for the good, honest pleasure of good reading. I’ve learned from experience already that old books are enjoyable books. They don’t hang around if they’re awful. I know, there are exceptions. Some live on because they’re important. No one reads Kant’s Critiques for their page-turning prose. But I didn’t put Kant on this list.

Second, they’re good training for me as a writer. I haven’t had a formal writing course since high school, so it’s safe to say that more than 90 percent of what I’ve learned about good writing has come from good reading. I’ll give credit to some books and articles I’ve read on the craft, too. There’s nothing like reading a great author, though, to lead me to be a better one myself.

Third — and I covered this in The Stream article — it’s about being fully human, fully engaged in the centuries-long conversations on what matters most in life.

And finally, I see it as part of my growth as a whole person in Christ. I keep hearing Christian leaders insisting on the importance of reading, and not just reading the Bible.

Paul asked Timothy (2 Timothy 4:13) to bring him his books and parchments, which had to have been more than the Scriptures. Paul was well read, as we know from his quoting Greek authors in Acts 17. The Bible emphasizes teaching and learning, which includes the learning that comes through reading. And I’m pretty sure the New Testament concept of “sabbath” includes restful enjoyment, which for me includes good reading.

Book Reviews?

Someone on Facebook asked me if I’d write a review of the old book I read in advance, The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius. The answer is yes and no. I’m going to write something on each of these books, but I’m not going to “review” them. It would be presumptuous. It’s been done already by thousands and thousands of smarter people than I. These books have already passed the reviewers’ tests. But I do plan to write what I gained from this reading, book by book.

Image Credit(s): Thomas Bormans/Unsplash.

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