2014 Themed Reading

free owl reading poster

So, I’ve decided that, in an effort to gain a deeper understanding of and appreciation for certain topics that I have always been interested in or curious about, I am going to arrange my reading in 2014 into themes/categories.  I am selecting 12 themes and will spend one month on each.  In that month, I will focus on selected readings for that topic – some months may have just 2 or 3 books, depending on the complexity of the topic and the length/density of the works, whereas other months may have 4 or 5 books planned.

Of course, I will still be doing other reading as well – reading for my own classes, reading whatever interesting books happen to pop-up throughout the year, reading whatever is on my shelf that calls to me, etc.  If I read, say, 3 books per theme throughout the year, that’s still just 36 books in the year, and I tend to read about 70.  So, plenty of room to still do other things!

This is just my effort to dig deeper into the things I’ve really always been curious about but feel that I don’t know as much about, or at the level I would like to know about it.   Once I have the calendar completed, I will create a page here on the blog specifically devoted to it.  For now, here is what is starting to take shape:

January: Walt Whitman

Reading: The Complete Poems by Walt Whitman

Supplemental: Walt Whitman’s America: A Cultural Biography by David S. Reynolds

February: John Steinbeck

Readings: To a God Unknown by John Steinbeck

Readings: Steinbeck: A Life in Letters by John Steinbeck

March: Literary Theory

Reading: Beginning Theory by Peter Barry

Reading: The Mirror and the Lamp: Romantic Theory and the Critical Tradition by M.H. Abrams

Reading: Mythologies by Roland Barthes

Reading: An Introduction to Literature, Criticism, and Theory by Andrew Bennett and Nicholas Royle

April: History

Reading: Founding Brothers by Joseph Ellis

Reading: The Crisis of the European Mind by Paul Hazard

Reading: Cleopatra by Stacy Schiff

Reading: The Defining Moment by Jonathan Alter

May: Science

Reading: A Briefer History of Time by Stephen Hawking

Reading: Cosmos by Carl Sagan

Reading: A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

June: On Reading and Writing

Reading: How to Read a Book by Mortimer Jerome Adler

Reading: On Writing by Stephen King

Reading: Willa Cather on Writing: Critical Studies on Writing as an Art by Willa Cather

July: The French Revolution

Reading: The French Revolution: A Very Short Introduction by William Doyle

Reading: The French Revolution: A History by Thomas Carlyle

Reading: A Place of Greater Safety by Hillary Mantel

Reading: Ninety-Three by Victor Hugo

August: Philosophy

Reading: Poetics by Aristotle

Reading: The Republic by Plato

Reading: Thus Spoke Zarathustra by Friedrich Nietzsche

Reading: Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction by Edward Craig

September: International Literature

Reading: China?

Reading: South America?

Reading: Middle Eastern?

Reading: African?

October: LGBT Studies (Literature/History)

Reading: The Absolutist by John Boyne

Reading: Annabel by Kathleen Winter

Reading: The Essential Gay Mystics by Andrew Harvey

Reading: Eminent Outlaws: The Gay Writers Who Changed America by Christopher Bram

November: Romanticism (American & European)

American: Walden by Henry David Thoreau

American: Pierre; or, The Ambiguities by Herman Melville

European: Blake’s Poetry and Designs by William Blake

European: A Sicilian Romance by Ann Radcliffe

Supplemental: Romanticism: A Very Short Introduction by Michael Ferber

December: Religion

Reading: Fear and Trembling by Soren Kierkegaard

Reading: Confessions by Saint Augustine of Hippo

Reading: The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins

Reading: Buddhism: A Very Short Introduction by Damien Keown

Reading: Science and Religion: A Very Short Introduction by Thomas Dixon

If you would like to join me in pursuing these themes (any or all of them) throughout the year, please feel free!  You do not need to read the exact same works as I do – in fact, it could be fun to interact with folks who are reading different texts within the same theme.

Also, if you have thoughts about or suggestions for any of these categories, let me know!  This is a work in progress up until the start of the new year. 🙂

35 Comments on “2014 Themed Reading

  1. I’m thinking September will be some kind of “International” or “Obscure” reading theme. Books from other countries that are generally not well represented in the main stream.

    I also need a couple suggestions for really good (readable) science books.


  2. Oh, and if anyone has suggestions for great history books…. I’m thinking American History, at the moment, but I could be convinced to open that up. 🙂


  3. For your February theme I highly recommend adding Steinbeck’s “Travels with Charley: In Search of America”. Library book review “In 1960, John Steinbeck set out to rediscover and document his native land; accompanied only by his dog, he travelled all across the United States in a pick-up truck. Moving through the woods and deserts, dirt tracks and highways to large cities and glorious wildernesses, Steinbeck observed – with remarkable honesty and insight, with a humorous and sometimes sceptical eye – America, and the Americans who inhabited it.”


    • I will definitely be getting to Travels with Charley, if not then – possibly sooner. I’m reading through the complete works of John Steinbeck (I have a Steinbeck Project page). Actually, I’ll be reading one of his very soon, and there’s a spectacular giveaway coming along with it… next week, probably. 🙂


  4. That sounds like a very interesting idea. 🙂 I’ve found that I unintentionally read books following a theme- such as dystopian novels or historic romances or mysteries with a food title. As for history books- you could try Founding Brothers or Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee. These were required reading for my AP US History class and while I couldn’t get into them, I was 15 and had better things to read, you might find them interesting.


    • Thanks, Alex! I really enjoy Joseph Ellis… I started that one a few years ago, actually, and then other things came up. I’ll definitely put it in there.


  5. You might want to think about adding Michael Cunningham’s Specimen Days to your Walt Whitman month. For June you might want to think about Margaret Atwood’s slim volume Murder in the Dark. A collection of short stories and prose poems that are not only written in a variety of types/styles but many also offer interesting viewpoints on writing as part of their subject matter.

    Good luck. Better you than me. 🙂


    • Thank you for those suggestions! I’m not sure I’ll have time for anything else in January, as the Complete Whitman and the Whitman biography are both very long. BUT I do have the first couple of weeks in January off, as I’m a college instructor, so if I manage to bang through those, I will definitely add Specimen Days. The Atwood sounds interesting, too. Since the King & Cather are both fairly short, I might be able to sneak that one in, too.


  6. If you want a fun add on to your French Revolution theme, Jennifer Donnelly’s Revolution was my favorite book of 2011.

    This looks great!


    • Thanks! I am going to add that to my big “TBR” list, but all of those French Revolution books are massive. I picked July for that month specifically for two reasons: 1) The Revolution happened in July and 2) I should have nothing much else to do that month (no teaching), so hopefully plenty of time to do the reading!


  7. intriguing and excellent plan – some good books in there! I would second Nicky for “Travels with Charley” and also “A Russian Journal” – both unexpected treasures from Steinbeck. “Cannery Row” is a great read too.


  8. What a novel idea. God luck with reading Barthes. I found him rather challenging. For the writing category have a look at David Lodge. For theory try also Terry Eagleton and Raymond Williams.


  9. I’ve always wanted to do something like this, but I’ve just never taken the time to sit down and make a list. I wish I could give you some history suggestions, but my history interests tend to lie with other countries. I love the French Revolution, so I’ll be interested to see our thoughts on those books. Really cool idea, Adam.


  10. cool idea!
    -will you be inviting co-readers to join you? I’ve been meaning to read Travels With Charley fr a while.
    – international literature: I have read some great books in this category, see here: http://wordsandpeace.com/2012/01/04/around-the-world-in-52-books/
    – French Revolution: to conclude your list, I highly recommend this HF. the character she chose to write about the events was an idea of genius: http://wordsandpeace.com/2011/03/01/madame-tussaud-a-novel-of-the-french-revolution/
    – American History. If you have not read it yet, I highly recommend Isaacson’s biography of Franklin [which contains lots of passages of the autobiography]: http://wordsandpeace.com/2013/06/18/3-mini-audiobook-reviews/


    • Thanks! Yes, people are more than welcome to join in throughout the year, if any book or topic piques their interest. 🙂


  11. I would LOVE a Steinbeck reading month — can you make it some kind of blogging event like Austen in August (and I’m sorry I never posted my review on P&P). I too want to read more Steinbeck (though I know I’ll never read the entire oeuvre since I couldn’t get through The Red Pony. I loved Travels with Charley and A Russian Journal.

    If you’re looking for a great Latin American read, I highly recommend The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende — I just finished it last week and hope to post my review soon. For history, I loved Catherine the Great by Robert K. Massie — a fascinating read that read like nonfiction. I know next to nothing about Russians and about the 17th century, and I could hardly put the book down.

    If you’re looking for great reads about the French revolution, I really liked A Tale of Two Cities; also, I’ve heard great things about Marie Antoinette: The Journey by Antonia Fraser, which is on my TBR shelf. I may put it on my TBR Pile Challenge list for next year.


  12. Interesting! I’m planning to challenge myself to read history books next year: Plutarch, Machiavelli, Edward Gibbon, Simon Winchester. I might pick Saint Augustine’s Confession as well.


  13. What a great idea! I love the notion of themed reading and am planning a series of blog posts on a similar theory (but WAY less ambitious) for next year. I have 2 book suggestions for you: for philosophy Will Durant’s The Story of Philosophy would be a good place to start if you haven’t already read it and for religion Karen Armstrong’s Islam: A Short History.


  14. I love this idea. I World love to do something similar at some point when work and the kids don’t keep me quite as busy.
    Because I have a master degree in philosophy, your philosophy month selections strike me as extremely arbitrary but also as the books everyone has heard of. So great that you want to actually read them but well, there are many other important books that have shaped our way of thinking. One suggestion could be Rene Descartes’ Meditations.
    Good luck with your project!


  15. I like your idea! You have me thinking about my own 2014 reading plans. I especially admire that you’re listing the books out by name – whenever I do they they end up dying on my TBR shelf.

    If you’re looking for a lighter science read there’s This Explains Everything edited by John Brockman, where roughly 150 science types explain their favorite “deep, elegant, or beautiful explanation”. More of a jumping off point than an in-depth study, to be sure, but it got me interested in things I’d never even heard about.

    May you have an edifying 2014!


  16. An interesting idea, and so many interesting themes. From various things I’ve seen around, there’s a lot of good things happening in translated fiction right now, so I think if you choose just about any of the countries/regions you have listed for September you can’t go wrong. Personally, I’m really interested in South America, and I read just the other day an opinion that some of the most exciting writing right now is in Spanish. (And a lot of Spanish-language books ARE being translated.)


  17. I did not read all of the comments so I am sorry if this has been mentioned before. For the book about Africa Mr. Chinua Achebe’s book Things Fall Apart might be a good fit. I think this is a wonderful idea and I am in.


  18. You are ambitious! And that’s a good thing!! For the French Revolution I liked Simon Sharma’s “Citizen”. For history you might want to consider something on the beginning of World War I since we’ll be commemorating that centennial next August. I liked Tuchman’s “The Guns of August.” In philosophy you might consider Plato’s “Meno” which is much shorter but a great intro to Plato. Can’t comment on the other categories but many good choices here.


  19. What a great idea for a reading plan. I might just join you for a couple of the topics. I’ve certainly been meaning to read more popular science and I think it could be really valuable to expand my knowledge of philosophy too.


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