Thoughts on Reading, and Learning – thinking about how to select Good Books to Read

Let’s think about reading books – and learning.

How do you decide that what you read is worth reading?

How do you pick the good books from the bad ones?

How do you learn something new – from someone that is reliable; trustworthy; right?

I was recently involved in a pretty disturbing conversation – disturbing to me.  The subject was specific. (By the way, it was not a political discussion).  The discussion was almost impossible to participate in.  There were two “groups,” and each had their own starting point. One group did not believe that the source of information of the other group was a trustworthy source. Thus, actual conversation/dialogue was really difficult.

I face this dilemma when I select books to read, and then present, at the First Friday Book Synopsis.

I’ve been at this a while. For nearly 22 years; every month. For the first 20 years, I had a colleague, Karl Krayer, and we would each choose the books we would present.  Two books, every month, for 20 years.  Since he experienced health problems, I have been selecting, and presenting, two books each month (with a couple of month’s help from a guest presenter).

Of all the books I have presented – to use a baseball analogy – I have chosen some home runs (a few), a few triples, and a few doubles.  I think I have gotten good enough at selecting books that I don’t choose anything less than a double.

Maybe I have presented a couple of strike outs.  But not many…

And, only once, I chose not a strike out; but a cheater who should have been banned from the game, The book was unethical in its foundations, and I was embarrassed having read it.  Yes, I stated, in my presentation, that I could not recommend the book at all, and I condemned the unethical proposals in the book.

(No, I will not identify it here).

Recently, I saw a tweet from a business leader that I deeply respect. In his tweet, he condemned an author and a book by that author.  It was a book I liked, and learned from.  So…a little soul-searching dilemma.

Frequently, I select books from the New York Times Best Sellers lists.  Or books from articles on “books you should read this year.” (Google it – there are a lot of such articles). And, I rely on good interviews with authors that I hear, especially on our local excellent NPR program, Think, with Krys

In other words, book selection is a very important, time-consuming task in my learning and my speaking.

And, there are times when I get into a book that I knew little about, and say to myself; pleasantly surprised – what a terrific book!

In my book selecting, I always try to remember Aristotle:

Ethos (the ethical appeal) – is the author genuinely credible; writing the truth, as it is known up to now.  (further research can wreak havoc on what we know today…).

Logos (the logical appeal) – does the book make sense?

Pathos (the emotional appeal) – does the book touch my emotions? And, is the author appealing to my emotions in a good way; not in a manipulative or false way?

And, though not Aristotle, still from the ancient rhetoricians:

Mythos (the narrative appeal) – does the book make good use of stories?  But, more than that, does the book’s story ring true to what I know of human experience?

But, here is what I know – I do not want to read, or believe, anything that I discover to be false. Certainly, not intentionally false. I want truthful authors, viewing the task of teaching readers through his/her books, with good intentions; with good will for the reader.  They want us to learn something good and true and useful from their writing.

Those are just a few of my thoughts about learning.  I hope you find them useful – maybe spurring you to think about your own reading, and learning.


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