One of the things you will become aware of very quickly when you begin writing a book is that you know nothing. (The next phase is becoming aware of the fact that you are a fraud.)
While you do, hopefully, eventually push through the imposter syndrome and finish the dang thing, there’s still value in recognizing the truth in the insecurity and resolving to fix it. So that’s what I hope to do in 2019. One of the things I’ve realized is that my own reading has become far too contemporary in the past couple years. This wasn’t intentional, but was a predictable result of the way my life is on a day-to-day basis: I have three little kids plus a full-time job and I get asked to read lots of books for Mere O. The result is I have small amounts of reading time and lots of new books I’m asked to read. Outcome: I haven’t been regularly reading older books for a few years now.
When you combine that pattern with the fact that I was never in a classical school prior to college and I did my degree at a land grant school, I actually am really poorly read when it comes to many of the great books of the Christian tradition, to say nothing of great books outside of Christianity. So the theme I want to have for my reading in 2019 is to actually spend more time reading old books than I do reading new books or reading essays and reviews published online. That will be a fairly substantial change in my reading habits, but I hope that it frees a bit from the wretched urgency that often follows from spending too much time on the internet. I also hope that it can have the effect of blowing through my own mind like a cool breeze blowing through open windows on a spring day. I need refreshment after several very dark years, both personally and culturally, and after the strain of writing a book. I am hopeful that spending more time in dogmatics and in old books will help on both counts.
The other thing that writing a book exposed in me is a real lack of organization in my intellectual work. I’ve been aware of that problem–and it is a problem–for a few years. Sertillanges’ The Intellectual Life rebuked me on this point especially. But I feel like I may finally have the space to organize my work a bit more this year. Our kids are a year older and I don’t have any pressing deadlines on large projects. So I hope to use this bit of breathing space between now and the book release to organize my work a bit more. Toward that end, I’ve put together a spread sheet with multiple sheets, all of which track different things I want to be reading. I’ll probably make those publicly available once I have cleaned up the formatting enough to make it useful to others. For now, here’s the short version:
First, I want to simply give myself the sort of education in great literature that a normal Hillsdale or Patrick Henry student might acquire simply over the course of their collegiate career. I didn’t have the opportunity to study at either of those schools, but I can read the books that they would read. So I mean to do that. Right now I am reading Aristophanes’ plays. I also plan to spend some time with Plato, Aristotle, and Plutarch over the next 12 months.
Second, I want to spend more time in formal dogmatic theology. Toward that end, I have written up reading plans for three key works I want to read cover-to-cover: Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics, Calvin’s Institutes, and Thomas’s Summa. I’m not going to tackle all of them at once, but I now have a plan that should get me through each in a reasonable amount of time. My Thomas plan gets me through the whole thing in two years. Calvin will take one year. The Bavinck plan should get me through the whole thing in about six months if I stick to the daily schedule, which, realistically, I probably won’t. Most likely I’ll be in Bavinck for about a year. I also have some smaller theological works on my list–Lecerf’s Introduction to Reformed Dogmatics and a couple works by Emil Brunner.
Finally, I am going to restart the habit I had for about five years during and after college, which is logging every book I read. I did that up until 2015 and have gotten out of the habit since we had our second kid. But I am hoping to begin doing that again this year as a way to track my progress and make sure I am getting through what I need to get through to stay on track.