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BOOK REVIEW: Steve Leveen's The Little Guide to Your Well-Read Life
by Charles Tatum

You might think the life of a HBS Monkey is glamourous: going to world premieres, hobnobbing with Hollywood elite, and bedding internet groupies with the mention of your name and the snap of your fingers. Sure, all or none of this has happened to me, but in addition to watching way too many movies, I read tons of material about Hollywood.

I am not talking about the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly or Radar (my new favorite entertainment magazine), I am talking those large collections of paper I used to sell back at the end of the semester in college...after missing enough class to have professors ask me for I.D. Yes, I read books. Lots of books. I picked up Steve Leveen's book, The Little Guide to Your Well-Read Life, from the library, hoping to improve my reading quantity and quality.

Leveen's small volume, easy to complete in one sitting, shows the average reader how they can take control of their literary lives and get more out of reading books.

Everyone seems to want to read more, and read better. I have suffered through my fair share of books, reading to the bitter end, hoping it would get better (much like bad movies). Leveen suggests making a list of books and subjects that have always interested you. This is not a heavy must-read list, but a List of Candidates. These are books you should keep around and pull down when you are ready, no commitment involved.

If you read the book and like it, it is now part of your Living Library. These are books you can go back to and reference again and again. Leveen advocates a more participatory role in your reading by doing the one things your mom told you never to do- write in your books. Are you a "Preservationist?" Unable to mark in a book so as to spoil its enjoyment for others? Or do you want to be a "Footprint Leaver," putting your ideas and thoughts on the very page you are reading, engaging the author as that author engages you? Not mentioned in the book, English contemporaries of 18th century writer Samuel Taylor Coleridge would loan him books just to get them back and read the author's dense notes and arguments in the margins (I was a former English major, so I know this stuff).

Leveen's idea of adding twelve books to your reading list each year is to rent at least one audio book a month. Many frown on audio books without giving them a chance (I tried listening to Christopher Lee reading Poe, and could not get into it). Book clubs are covered, as well. Also interesting is a section on how books had a liberating effect on people like Nelson Mandela and Malcolm X.

The only "yeah, right" section of the book I found was Leveen's idea to keep some books back until you have a chance to read them in the location they are set. Reading Lonesome Dove on your next trip to Texas is a great idea, but it is hardly the driving force behind calling up your travel agent. Also, some of Leveen's hippie language had me grinning. Didn't you, when I asked you if you wanted to be a "Footprint Leaver?"

While Steve Leveen's writing is simple, his message is clear- YOU control what you read, so be well-read. A well-read life is a well-lived life, a point more obvious when I finished this book.

Ironically, I already follow some of Leveen's advice- I take notes on books so I can write reviews, just as I take notes on films I watch. I did not mark up the book in front of me, however, it belongs to the public library.

The Little Guide to Your Well-Read Life is 123 pages long and includes blank end pages for notes. It was published in 2005. The chapters are:

Introduction: Book Love Regained
Chapter 1: Uncovering the Books That Will Change Your Life
Chapter 2: Seizing More from Your Reading
Chapter 3: Reading with Your Ears
Chapter 4: Sharing the Fellowship of Books
Chapter 5: A Life Uplifted
plus an epilogue, bibliography, acknowledgements, and an index.

On the five star scale, I would give this four stars.

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originally posted: 11/10/05 07:04:10
last updated: 12/12/05 12:21:31
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