Well Read

It seems as though being well read doesn’t mean what it used to mean.

Well read used to imply that a person had read their fair share of the classics. It meant that they could probably discuss the writings of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Twain, Hawthorne, Salinger, Steinbeck, Rand, et al. It also could imply their familiarity with great poets like Shakespeare, Cummings, Eliot, Browning, Shelley, Donne, Alighieri and Yeats.

We are well read in the classics during school since the books are selected by our teachers. These works are part of the literary canon and are, therefore, ‘required reading.’ But what happens when we start to select for ourselves and make our own choices?

For a while when I was traveling a lot, it seemed like every book I purchased came from an airport gift shop. The books offered in the airport are hardly a random sampling. They don’t have a vast selection, so, of course, they are pushing bestsellers.

Well read seems to be taking on another form in the last thirty years. One of my friends is a doctor and incredibly well read when it comes to medical journals. She is a prolific academic and has committed at least 10% of the Bible to memory. However, she can’t tell A Midsummer Night’s Dream from Hamlet. Another friend has a commanding knowledge of history, cooking, psychology, politics, current events, biology, business, exercise and nutrition. She hasn’t read a work of fiction since high school.

In the last few years, movie watching has become an intellectual activity (no complaints here), and that’s another form of being well read. Many movies at one point were books. One of my friends can pass any movie trivia test you put in front of him, even if it spans back to the 20’s. However, he can’t be bothered to read anything more intensive than a magazine.

Before television, before radio, before movies, before the internet, people found their entertainment in books and plays. We now have many more media portals for entertainment. It’s not just about reading literature and fiction; it’s about reading anything. Someone’s interest and education might be highly specialized, or it may be extremely broad and varied.

Although there have been a lot of changes to what constitutes well read, one thing remains constant. Being well read in today’s world may just mean educating oneself well – and frequently.

If you were to create a list of books that you consider required reading, what titles would you include?

12 thoughts on “Well Read

  1. Kimberly,

    I agree with you that people don’t value classic literature as highly as they once did. Readers seem to have shorter attention spans these days–probably a product of busy lifestyles. Also, the world has changed a great deal, and we can’t always relate to the worlds of yesteryear.

    And yet, classic tales have earned their place on our bookshelves for brilliance proven over time. I hope that today’s hurried readers will still make time for them, but that they will also sample the many valuable books written today.

  2. This is fun Kimberly. Here’s my list
    1.The Bible
    2.To Kill a Mocking Bird by Harper Lee
    3.Into the Free by Julie Cantrell
    4.This Present Darkness by Frank Peretti
    5.The Scarlet Thread by Francine Rivers
    6.Before the Scarlet Dawn by Rita Gerlach
    7. Rooms by James Rubart

    I chose each of these books because they impacted me and changed my life for the better.

  3. Pingback: Where are you reading? | The Homeschool Roadtrip

  4. You make such a valid point. I dare to say that even some of the books decorating some of the book store windows have gotten darker too. Yet for the true readers and writers who walk through the door and into the store, the choices are galore.

    My top picks bright and early this morning:
    1) Bible
    2) Gone with the Wind – times have changed, although set back in time – I find it encouraging to see areas we have grown and sad for those we have masked

    Your post has motivated me to reread the classics from high school too, in my free time of course. It might take me awhile but I think I’ll start with Huck Finn. I like Twain.

  5. Everything I’ve read and enjoyed, of course! 😉

    No, seriously:

    The Bible
    Mere Christianity, by C.S.Lewis
    Our Covenant God, by Kay Arthur

    Many, many more, of course, but these are a handful that strongly impacted my view of life and truth.

  6. What a fun question! These are been life-changing reads for me: The Bible, “On the Incarnation” by Saint Athanasius, “The Confessions” by Saint Augustine (translation by Maria Boulding), “The Histories” by Herodotus, “Beowulf” translated by Frederick Rebsamen, “Kristin Lavransdatter” by Sigrid Undset, “Church History in Plain Language” by Bruce L. Shelley, “The Screwtape Letters” and “The Chronicles of Narnia” by C.S. Lewis, “Les Miserables” by Victor Hugo, for fun—everything by Dickens and Austen, “Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Bronte, and the short little treasure “Epic” by John Eldredge to make sense of it all. I will probably add “Heaven: The Heart’s Deepest Longing” by Peter Kreeft once I’ve gotten through this read-and-then-walk-away-to-ponder theological/philosophical offering.

  7. Interesting post! For me, I am well-read in WWII history. I gobble up all the WWII history books any chance I get!

    But in regards to the classics? I’m not even close….and that’s ok. I still have time and I always love to read and learn.

  8. Mine include two relatively recent adult books I would have never read had I not worked at Borders…and now I consider them two of the must-reads.

    The other are essential KIDS’ books….There are more but these are my top four.


    Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver,
    Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan
    A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle
    The Phantom Tollbooth by Norman Juster
    The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
    From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg

  9. Lately I’ve been thinking about this too. Not as it pertains to the masses but to me, personally. I missed out on the classics because my high school and college years were, well, let’s just say I was otherwise occupied. Now that I’m a writer I so wish I had the classics stored in my brain for reference. I know it’s not too late to read them but finding the time is a constant challenge. But still, I’d like to get a few questions right on the rare occasion when I sit down to watch Jeopardy.

  10. To Kill a Mockingbird, Cather in the Rye, Wuthering Heights, Shakespeare’s works, The Stand by Stephen King, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Valperga, anything by Jane Austen

  11. This was such a great experience! Thanks to all of you for listing the books you feel are required reading. Here are a few of mine:
    Pride and Prejudice, The Sun Also Rises, The Great Gatsby, Huck Finn, Frankenstein, The Bible, Dorian Gray, The Count of Monte Cristo, Hamlet and many, many more.

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