What to Read in Retirement

When I retired from the big full-time academic work over three years ago, I donated several boxes of books to my university library. I had some ideas of what I wanted to be reading in retirement, and thought that I wouldn’t be needing any of the books that I gave away. However, my interests changed, and I’ve already re-purchased at least a dozen of those books that I gave away. (At least I’ve found used copies of most of them.) At the same time, I still have more unread books on my bookshelves than I’ll be able to read in what remains of my life. As I anticipated retirement, I assumed that I would enjoy many hours of reading. And I have, but I’ve also suffered through more time than I would like to admit trying to decide just what I want to read next. Each morning as I pass the bookshelves I notice books that I would really like to read (and others that I would really like to re-read). I need some sort of structure.

I’ve long since convinced myself that the contemplative life is a life worth living. Of course I knew that after retirement I would continue to have household responsibilities, but surely I would have more than enough time for reading. But there are so many books! And so little time! I’ve spent months now bouncing from book to book (or, as my wife commented recently, acting like a dog on a walk, chasing one squirrel after another). Now I’ve decided that it’s time to identify a project that offers something like a structured reading program.

As I’ve thought about this, it occurs to me that this is a rather personalized version of the question, “What is the good life?” I’ve already decided that the contemplative life is one version of the good life. And I’ve accepted Virginia Woolf’s admonition that reading is its own reward. But what’s my particular version of that good life? That’s the question of the moment.