One of my goals for this year was broadening my literary horizons — aka, reading outside my comfort zone by intentionally choosing titles from a specific list of book categories.
My comfort zone is fiction, specifically mysteries and a few choice classic novels. Fiction is great for stretching your imagination, introducing you to new places and experiences, and increasing your empathy and understanding of different types of people. But too much fiction can dull your mind. We need a balance of “fun” reading alongside the nonfiction books which require more focus and thought. Some nonfiction might be harder to get through, especially on days when you’re feeling overwhelmed physically or mentally, but they provide great dividends in knowledge and understanding! Both fiction and nonfiction are essential to becoming a more well-rounded person.
So this year, instead of simply trying to reading more, I strove to read more types of books.
Instead of simply drifting to the easy choices and whatever looked good at the library, I pushed outside my comfort zone to broaden my literary horizons — to expand my academic knowledge and appreciation of other forms of literature, both fiction and nonfiction.
I chose a list of 20 categories (thanks to Tim Challies for the idea) and attempted to read at least one book from each category. I still read plenty of fiction, as you’ll see below. But I enjoyed exploring some less familiar genres or categories and felt like my reading this year was a lot more balance. Having this list definitely helped me read more intentionally!
Unfortunately, I didn’t quite complete the list: I never did read a book by a Puritan. Honestly, I procrastinated on that one until a few weeks ago… and now my brain is so saturated with end-of-year responsibilities that I’m not really able to give a Puritan title the attention it requires. But I did spend time looking through various options for the category, including reading samples of several different books, and I’ve already picked one out for 2017!
Considering this was the first year I worked off a specific list like this (and considering we had a cross-country move in the middle of it all, which seriously derailed progress on every single goal for the year), I’d say I did pretty well! I even added a few more categories beyond my original list, partly because I wanted to branch out a little more, and partly just to see where it led me.
Here are the categories and titles of what I read in 2016 (contains affiliate links):
1. Biography of a notable Christian — Fierce Convictions: Hannah More (Karen Prior)
2. Biography of anyone — J.R.R. Tolkien: A Life Inspired (Wyatt North)
3. Autobiography or memoir — A Retrospect: The Story of My Zeal for Missions (J. Hudson Taylor)
4. Book that changed someone’s life — Saint in the Wilderness (Jess Carr)
5. Book for children — Indiana Jones and the Plantation Treasure (William McCay) // Roverandom (J.R.R. Tolkien)
6. Book for young adults — Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (J.K. Rowling)
7. Bestselling book — A Wrinkle in Time (Madeleine L’Engle)
8. Older mystery novel —Clouds of Witness (Dorothy Sayers)
9. Newer mystery novel — Closed Casket: an Agatha Christie novel (Sophie Hannah)
10. Book of short stories — Innocence of Father Brown (G.K. Chesterton)
11. Classic novel for children — Chronicles of Narnia 1-6 (C.S. Lewis)
12. Classic novel for adults — That Hideous Strength (C.S. Lewis)
13. Sci-fiction/fantasy novel — The Force Awakens (Alan Dean Foster) // Ready Player One (Ernest Cline)
14. Book about a hobby — Complete Guide to Nature Photography (Sean Arbabi)
15. Book about leadership — Co-Active Leadership (Henry & Karen Kimsey-House)
16. Book about the universe — Death By Black Hole (Neil deGrasse Tyson)
17. Book of regional interest — Sagebrush Country (Ronald Taylor) // 8000 Miles of Dirt (Dan Lewis)
18. Book with the word “gospel” in title — Gospel Meditations for Missions (Chris Anderson)
19. Book your pastor recommends — I Am A Church Member (Thom Rainer)
20. Book your pastor’s wife recommends — Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World (Joanna Weaver)
21. Book about theology — A Mormon’s Unexpected Journey, by Carma Naylor
22. Book about a current issue — Christians and Alcohol (Randy Jaeggli)
23. Book about Bible study — Women of the Word (Jen Wilkin)
24. Book about Christian living — Habits of Grace (David Mathis)
25. Book published about 100 years ago — Uneasy Money (P.G. Wodehouse)
26. Book published about 50 years ago — The Making of Star Trek (Stephen Whitfield)
27. Book published in 2016 — 31 Days to Radically Reduce Your Expenses (Kalyn Brooke) // One of the Few (Jason B. Ladd)
28. Commentary — The Wisdom of Proverbs, Job, & Ecclesiastes (Derek Kidner)
29. Book of poetry — Holy Sonnets 1-19 (John Donne)
30. Book written by a Puritan — ???
Not listed: re-reads (aka, The Hobbit), other mysteries, and various general fiction books. If you’re really curious what else I read this past year, check out my 2016 shelf on Goodreads.
Some interesting observations from this year’s reading:
- I fell in love with biographies and auto-biographies about notable Christians or missionaries.
- I read 11 children/young adult books… after not reading any for a very, very long time.
- I read 17 fiction books that fit into certain categories, and of those, 11 were sci-fi or fantasy (the others were mysteries).
- I finally crossed C.S. Lewis’ space trilogy and Narnia series off my to-read list… and wasn’t wild about any of them.
- I fell more in love with Tolkien’s works, thanks to Roverandom and starting two of his other works (hopefully to be completed in 2017).
- I was most surprised by Roverandom, A Wrinkle in Time, and Death By Black Hole.
- I enjoyed interspersing 7 nonfiction books that were neither biographies nor theology-related.
- I read fewer books overall when including deeper non-fiction on a more consistent basis.
Of everything new that I read in 2016, my top five favorites were: A Retrospect (Hudson Taylor); Roverandom (J.R.R. Tolkien); Women of the Word (Jen Wilkin); Habits of Grace (David Mathis); and The Making of Star Trek (Stephen Whitfield).
I’m planning to work through a similar list in 2017, although I’m tweaking the categories a little more. I definitely plan to include a blend of fiction categories, books from different years of publication, various Christian or theology topics, and a smattering of other nonfiction categories. I’d love your suggestions, if you have any!