Reading Thematically

I guess it started fifteen or so years ago, when I added to my annual reading plan a "New Field of Interest" category, for which I selected several books on a particular subject I wanted to explore (for example, Islam, ethics, archaeology, gardening, personal finance, etc.).

Then, about four years ago, I added another category to my plan: "Related Books," that bore some resemblance or relationship that would add enjoyment to the reading process. For example, I read the two novels Jane Eyre (Bronte) and Rebecca (du Maurier) back-to-back, which was fascinating, given two similar stories with contrasting periods and heroines.

Some of the other "Related Books" I have enjoyed:
  • The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (Shirer) and Fatherland (Harris), a nonfiction chronicle of Nazi Germany, and a novel set in a post-World-War-II Europe in which Hitler had WON.
  • Robinson Crusoe (Defoe), Foe (Coetzee), In Search of Robinson Crusoe (Severin)
  • The Sense of the Call (Dawn), Sabbath Time (Edwards), and The Rhythm of Life (Kelly)
  • The Dante Club (Pearl) and The Mosaic Crimes (Leoni), two books revolving around the poet Dante Alighieri.
  • Tom Brown’s School Days (Hughes) and Flashman (Fraser). The protagonist in Flashman (and succeeding books) was borrowed from a character in Tom Brown's School Days.
  • Corporate Canaries (Sutton) followed by The Five Dysfunctions of a Team (Lencioni) and Derailed (Irvin).
  • This year I will follow up a new Seamus Heaney translation of Beowulf with Grendel, a novel by John Gardner.
Sometimes a theme has developed by accident. A couple years ago, I read (as planned) three biographies of Teddy Roosevelt, each book focusing on a different period of his life (pre-White-House days, his presidency, and his post-presidential years). His home for most of his adult life was Sagamore Hill, on Long Island. The next book I read (again, planned) was The Gold Coast, a novel by Nelson DeMille, which takes place in that very area of Long Island, roughly sixty years later.

A similar case occurred when I learned (through one of those biographies) of Roosevelt's friendship with a Harvard classmate, Owen Wister, the author of The Viriginian, which was on my reading list at that time.

And, of course, because I focus a chunk of my reading on books about prayer and the contemplative life, those parts of my reading tend to be thematic.

Since stumbling on this practice, it has become one of the most pleasurable parts of my reading and study, and one that seems to grow each year. And one which certainly grows ME.

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