Friday, January 28, 2011

Ramblings on "I Read Dead People"

Most of my major projects for the week are done. So I have no excuse not to tidy up my desk (a bit) and catch up on some paper work and quadrant 2 activities (ala Covey). And naturally, I have to face the fact that I have a  lot of reading to catch up on - and this includes a stack of  books to read among other things. But not much motivation - mostly overwhelming sense of it being a hopeless task. 

Anyway it was nice to catch on what is discussed on "Out of Ur" and to read this article by Skye Jethani: "I read dead people"

I particularly like the paragraph I have highlighted below. Makes good sense and I find it to be true. Just last week I was having a conversation with a church member (who has been with us less than a year). A really amazing mother of three who among other things is doing her Masters in Theology (part time). As we discussed books, I felt almost embarrassed (just for a moment) that I was so far behind on my reading. And it was just as embarrassing (also for a just a moment) for me to tell her (knowing me and my "honest" approach, I had to open my mouth and volunteer this bit of information) .... tell her that quite a few of the books we discussed I had read but for the life of me could not remember much about what I read. I believe I used the term, "not very memorable"! :-)

Don't feel so bad now LOL

People ask me all the time, “Who do you read?” In most cases they’re looking for book recommendations. (Some people, particularly Calvinistas, are trying to determine if I’m safe--are my ideas and my theology grounded in what they see as credible sources.) But my answer usually surprises them: “I read dead people.”

What do I mean? In my role with Leadership Journal I get dozens of books sent to me almost every week from publishers. They’re looking for some good press, an endorsement, or a review in our pages. And while there are some very good books being written these days (we feature the best every year with our Golden Canon awards), there is also a lot of chaff. I simply don’t have time to read everything.

So here’s what I’ve learned. If someone has been dead for a while and his book is still in print and widely read, then it’s probably worth reading. And, if we’re honest, there are precious few books written by Christian authors today that will still be read in 24 months, let alone 24 years. I want to use my reading time to immerse myself in powerfully formative material, and not just flash-in-the-pan trends. Does this mean I never read living authors? No, of course not. But if they’re not dead, I like them to be pretty close. I can usually trust that they’re not going to waste what time they have left on this earth writing sappy Hallmark card sentimental Evangelical fluff. 

For the rest of the article, of here


  1. this makes me nervous on multiple levels. three fallacies:

    1. it assumes that ppl who are publishing now (or young) have nothing relevant to say. (not true, although it is true that most novelists and ppl who write longer works are older.)

    2. it assumes that ppl who are dead and who have not been read recently have nothing to say. (also not always true--Melville was never popular during his lifetime and his works became popular 40-50 yrs after his death.)

    3. it assumes that ppl who are dead and who continue to be read now are always relevant. and out of sheer experience, someone will always say, "no, but that's not always true either...."

    everyone's looking for short cuts to find out how to read and read well but i'm afraid this particular rule of thumb is imprecise and inadequate. no short cuts!!!

  2. Z

    Thanks for your insights. Valid points. For me I think though he makes sense in that his context (and mine) is "Christian authors" writing on "Christian stuff".

    There are just too many Christian books on the market and so many are just not worth taking up my precious time reading. Especially when my time is so limited and often I need a lot of time to digest :-)

    He does too qualify his comments.

    For me I guess my rule of thumb would be the recommendations of friends who are well read and have a good grasp of the subject matter I am interested in and who know my level of knowledge and how much I cope.