My reading suggestion follows Cate’s example in fleeing from a specific recommendation.  And she gives very good advice. The assigned books are one of the big reasons you’re there. And, let’s face it, the professors try to make them a practical necessity.

But the extra-curricular readings are also important. Some of them may also be serious idea books. These are valuable as supplements, and to give you direction.

But don’t underestimate the value of working through a thumping good novel over the course of a semester.


First of all, for rest. Class reading may be enlightening, maddening, exhausting, or life-changing. But seldom refreshing. A good novel is not mindless, but it is a different kind of mental activity. It is a side trip through a different world.

Secondly, for warming up to or cooling down from the assigned work. Whatever your major, plenty of books will be thrown at you. And a fun activity that involves the same basic exercise as work, while having a different quality, is quite handy.

Thirdly, to foster and/or maintain a love of reading. Academic work can wear down your love for books. This is gets truer as the level of study gets more advanced, and the many books bring much weariness. The heavier the class reading load, the more helpful it is to throw in something fun to balance it out.

Finally, it keeps up your ability to read “normal” books  for “normal” reasons. This is important for eggheads like me, for whom that is remedial work. It is doubly important when aiming for teaching or ministry, where you must keep an ability to communicate at all levels.

In short, a good novel adds some fun to the mix, and can even boost your ability to keep up with the class reading.

What kind of novel?  It may or may not be high literature, depending on your taste. This trick doesn’t work so well if you aim for bragging rights with your reading choices, or if your “novel on the side” is not actually enjoyable for you.

Here are some examples of books I read for refreshment in college. Some of them might show up in a lit class, but, hey, I’m a nerd. It’s right there on my contributor’s bio.

Lord of the Rings. Many times over.

Pride and Prejudice. It rewards repeat readings, as you see how Elizabeth’s pride colors the story.

Anthony Trollope, especially Barchester Towers. Warning: will make your writing witty, chatty, and verbose.

Harry Potter. How can you not?

Stephen Lawhead, especially the Pendragon series and Celtic Crusades. It’s bubblegum history, but enjoyable fiction.

Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels. A dose of wackiness, with surprisingly strong characters. For such cynical satire, there is an odd idealism to them. How did I not discover them before grad school?

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Posted by Kevin White


  1. Matthew Lee Anderson September 13, 2011 at 10:23 am

    Can we also just throw in any novel by Chesterton?

    Also, you and Cate: total failures at the whole “one book” concept. Killing me! : )



  2. Matt:

    Certainly. I’m not sure why I didn’t list them, unless I was mentally lumping his novels in with his theological nonfiction and his essays. (Insert plug for “Tremendous Trifles” here.) The Man Who Was Thursday is a wild ride, and Manalive is just great. I gave a copy of it to my wife just after we first got together, actually. I still have Napoleon of Notting Hill on my shelf, guiltily unread.

    And Matt, “one” can be a collective term as well. ;)


    1. Matthew Lee Anderson September 13, 2011 at 10:50 am

      Reading “one” in some sort of literary federal headship way, eh? I see how you roll, White! : )

      Totally agree about Tremendous Trifles. I think that “on Lying in Bed” is almost the perfect essay!


      1. For in Adam we have all skimmed…


  3. I endorse the Pratchett recommendation except for one small problem… I would promise myself one chapter of a Discworld novel to relax when I had finished a section of my course work when revising for exams, only to regularly discover that Pratchett doesn’t write chapters. Whoops. I’ll just have to finish the whole book then.

    It didn’t help my revision.

    But did help to keep life worth living.


    1. I’ve noticed that, too.

      While any opportunity to cultivate self-control is a good thing, one does need to watch how they create those opportunities during crunch times…


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