But volume is far from my only concern. I also develop a plan that will allow me to derive maximum variety and quality from my reading throughout the course of a year. I pursue a variety of authors, genre, and forms in my reading plan not only for the entertainment value, but also because such a course of intentional reading does more than broaden my horizons; it broadens me. As Clifton Fadiman writes in The New Lifetime Reading Plan, “It is rather like what is offered by loving and marrying, rearing children, carving out a career, creating a home. [Such a variety of books] can be a major experience, a source of continuous internal growth.”
I also design my reading in order to achieve a level of quality that will challenge and inform my writing and preaching...and living. My annual reading plan typically includes:
• a minimum of one biographical title, like this year's Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow and Blood and Thunder by Hampton Sides.Finally, for good measure, I require that at least one of the books on my list (in any category) must be what I call a “mule-choker,” a book of great heft, the intimidating sort of book I might not otherwise read. In past years, these have been books like Anna Karenina (Tolstoy), An Incomplete Education¬(Jones, Wilson), and The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Hugo).
• at least one memoir. Last year, I read three.
• a healthy dose of classics.
• a writing book or two.
• at least one history book, such as Larson’s Summer for the Gods, about the Scopes trial, or Sterling Seagrave’s The Yamato Dynasty, about Japan’s Imperial family.
• at least two books by authors I’ve never read before. I must sheepishly admit that if it were not for this annual goal, I probably would not have read such authors as John Irving, Flannery O’Connor, and Anne Tyler.
• a minimum of one poetry book each year. In 1990, for example, I read Spoon River Anthology, and the next year, The Poems of Richard Wilbur, and in 1992 Robert Frost’s A Boy’s Will;
• a couple books from among my favorite authors, such as William Faulkner, C.S. Lewis, and Mark Twain.
• some Christian/inspirational books.
• a couple books in a new discipline or field of interest. For instance, one year, I explored logic; another, it was gardening.
• at least one children’s book, since I am still a child at heart and a great admirer of picture books and juvenile literature like Chris Van Allsburg’s extravagant picture books, Roald Dahl’s delightful stories, and C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia.
• two selections from a short list of books I’ve decided to re-read every few years, some serious, some life-changing, some fanciful.
• a healthy dose of leadership and ministry-related books (last year I read thirteen in this area).
• a couple "related" books. I discovered a few years ago how fun it can be to read a few books that are related in some way, such as Jane Eyre and Rebecca, two similar novels with contrasting heroines, or following Robinson Crusoe with the nonfiction In Search of Robinson Crusoe, and adding J. M. Coetzee's Foe.
• a few books on prayer.
• and some international or inter-cultural literature, such as books by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Bharati Mukherjee.