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The Little Guide to Your Well-Read Life

by Steve Leveen

About.com Rating 3 Star Rating

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The Little Guide to Your Well-Read Life
The Little Guide to Your Well-Read Life is a friendly--if occasionally hyperbolic--book that aims to do exactly what it says: to offer tips for "How to get more books in your life and more life from your books." At a size of 6 x 8 inches and 144 pages, including several blanks for note taking, the book is also true to its word about being little.

Your Well-Read Life is a result of Steve Leveen's quest to learn from others how they choose books, how and when they read, and ways they've found to remember more from their reading. He interviewed a variety of readers, librarians, editors, writers, businesspeople, among others, and read books about books, synthesizing their strategies in a guide that is itself a very quick read.

Some of the ideas will no doubt seem like common sense to avid readers, though it never hurts to be reminded of techniques that work (especially in a book that is categorized as self-help). Try additional books by authors you've enjoyed before. Look for books on topics that interest you. Keep a list of books that others have recommended and you think you might like. Consider listening to audio books while in the car. Read the author's bio to learn more about the author's perspective before reading the book.
Indeed, the author's bio was one reason I became interested in Your Well-Read Life. Steve Leveen is CEO and co-founder of Levenger, a company known for selling "tools for serious readers," from lap desks and bookcases to lavish notebooks and brass bookmarks. Although the book hopes to (and will) benefit casual readers, and is accessible enough for all types of readers, it feels like it is primarily meant to be a gift book for "serious" or frequent readers, who have already developed a love affair with books. Some tips should be useful for students seeking to retain more from their textbook reading, such as how to preview a book and how to read "actively."

Leveen is a proponent of writing in books--he calls himself a Footprint Leaver--but acknowledges that many readers take the opposing view--these are the Preservationists--and would never make a mark in their books. Or fold down the corners. Or break the spines. He lays out a few pros and cons for the approaches of both Footprint Leavers and Preservationists. Footprint Leavers can find suggested margin marks on the book's Web site (see How to Leave Masterly Marginalia).
He also offers strategies for how to balance your home library between books you have and have not read; how to decide when to buy a book and when to check it out from the library; how to choose or start a book group; and how to choose books that will mean more to you without spending too much time on books you won't like. He lets you know that it's OK to not finish a book if you're not getting anything from it or don't like it, suggesting you give it fifty pages to entice you (My aunt Joan has a 100-page rule).

Leveen sometimes adopts a motivational-speaker tone that is a little puzzling; readers in "book love" probably don't need to be convinced of the pleasures of reading. Along the same lines, the writing occasionally goes over the top, as in:

"When we are reading a really great book, burdens feel lighter, cares seem smaller, and commonplaces are suddenly delightful. You become your best optimistic self. Like romantic love, book love fills you with a certain warmth and completeness. The world holds promise. The atmosphere is clearer and brighter; a beckoning wind blows your hair."
The last chapter, "A Life Uplifted," provides a closing pep rally and a recap that isn't all that necessary in such a short book. I found myself wondering what other ideas this space could have been used for instead.

Overall, though, Your Well-Read Life delivers several good ideas for how to get more out of your reading. It doesn't cover reading beyond books, nor could it and remain a short guide, but some tips can be applied to other media, such as newspapers, magazines, journals, and online text. The book itself is nicely produced and includes several old-fashioned line drawings by Glenn Wolff, and curious readers can follow ongoing discussions via Leveen's column at www.Levenger.com/wellreadlife.

Most valuable of all, the book doesn't advocate a well-read life but your well-read life. Find what you enjoy, what interests you, and don't worry if you never read War and Peace.

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