Do you find books or do they find you? Is there some pattern to the books you read?
Looking back, I find that if I lay all the books I've read down on the ground in the order in which I read them, they make a very strange path indeed, with many a twist and curve and unexpected fork.
As I gain experience, certain major areas of interest arise, and these areas attract books like flypaper attracts flies. For example, I have gradually become more and more interested in the I Ching. In the last couple of years I keep stumbling over interesting references to Carl Jung and I now discover that Jung spent 30 years studying the I Ching. So now I will start to study Jung.
Sometimes I find a reference to another book that tantalizes me, and I spend years searching for it. I don't search TOO hard, though. After all, the fun is in the searching. So I drift through bookstore after bookstore as a leaf drifts down a lazy stream. And then one day, when I least expect it, the book leaps at me from a dusty shelf and in my excitement I hug the cashier and dance out the door.
Another strategy is to find a good author, and then to seek out other books by that author. These authors are like old friends who drop in when I least expect it; I'm always glad to see them. Richard Dawkins, Martin Gardner, Douglas Hofstadter, Peter Beagle, Anne Rice, Borges, Henry Kutner: these are a few of the beacons that cut through the foggiest of bookstores. And on a level all by himself, my oldest friend from childhood: J. R. R. Tolkien.
Of course, the more you read, the more you become aware of what you haven't read. For each book I devour, I generally add two or three new titles to my list of books to read. As I pace back and forth across the landscape of books, I sometimes become aware of repeated references to a subject of which I know nothing, a white spot on my map. At such times I suspend my aimless wanderings and chart a direct course for the unexplored territory. Thus I have recently decided that I need to know more about Superstring theory and I will soon seek out a book on that subject.
The best thing about getting an English degree is that it helped me draw up a partial map of the classics, and to my list of living friends I have added an even larger list of dead friends. I like the nineteenth century best of all: Dickens and Twain, Thoreau and Melville. Another trick is to discover flesh and blood friends with good taste, and then join them in the hunt. Stuart and Paul are especially useful in this regard, and this is why the Book Reviews Archive was the first stack I wrote.
I make a slight effort to balance my reading. Thus if I've spent too much time reading science books, I dip into literature. A dash of poetry, a fairy tale or two, something oriental, and for desert: a little math. But for the most part I try to get lost in bookstores and just drift and wait for some book to find me.
So is there some pattern to the books you read? Do you find books or do they find you?