Years ago, I stumbled on an idea that has greatly enriched my reading: thematic reading. That is, each year I’ll choose a handful of books to read that are related in some way (topic, character, setting, etc.).
One year, I read two classic novels back-to-back, which were fascinating to compare and contrast: Jane Eyre (Bronte) and Rebecca (du Maurier).
Another time, I re-read a personal favorite, Robinson Crusoe, and followed it with two other books: the nonfiction In Search of Robinson Crusoe (Severin) and the imaginative novel Foe (Coetzee).
That same year, I read three books relating to Islam: The Reluctant Fundamentalist (Hamid), Infidel (Ali), and I Dared to Call Him Father (Sheikh).
Other thematic pairings (or triplings) were:
- Two books on Nazi Germany: the nonfiction The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (Shirer) and the novel Fatherland (Harris)
- Three books whose relationship should be obvious: Psalms for Praying (Merrill), Praying the Psalms (Brueggemann), and Psalms of My Life (Bayly)
- Two books dealing with hostage situations: A Rope and a Prayer (Rohde/Mulvihill) and In the Presence of My Enemies (Burnham)
- Flaubert’s Parrot (Barnes) and Madame Bovary (Flaubert)
- Martin Luther King Jr. (Frady) and Hellhound on his Trail (Sides)
- Something Rotten (Fforde) and Gertrude & Claudius (Updike)
- Arthur & George (Barnes) and The Sherlockian (Moore)
I’ve also planned my reading to coincide with places I visit. So, on a long cruise to and around Hawaii, I read Mark Twain’s Letters from Hawaii, Jack London’s The House of Pride, and two other books related to those islands. In Monterey (CA) I read John Steinbeck. In Kentucky, Wendell Berry. In Arches National Park (UT), Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey.
Of course, many people read thematically as a matter of course because they concentrate their reading on a particular field or topic: leadership, perhaps, or church planting, and so on. But I’ve derived so much fun—and sometimes insight—from this practice of intentionally choosing books that relate to each other (by topic, location, plot, character, etc.), that it’s become a regular part of my reading every year.
How about you? Do you do something like this? Or even better?