introducing readers to writers since 1995

May 13, 2005

Guest Author: Steve Leveen

by Ron Hogan

leveen.jpgSteve Leveen is the founder of Levenger, the company that specializes in "tools for serious readers" like lap tables, bookweights, and stands. But he's also the author of The Little Guide to Your Well-Read Life, which gets at the mission behind all those tools. It's actually a new mission for Leveen--or, rather, a mission with newfound fervor. In this essay, he explains how it all came about.

Starting a Well-Read Life
by Steve Leveen

You would think that someone who's made his living selling "tools for serious readers" would be a serious reader himself. Far from it.

My wife, Lori, and I started Levenger in 1987 as a catalog of tools for serious readers. But until two years ago, I was barely a reader. Raising a family and building a business left me too busy for books--or so I thought. Then one day, time-starved as usual, I decided to listen to an audiobook by Roger Horchow, a fellow direct-mail merchant, to pick up some tips.

The book was informative. But the experience was transforming.

I realized that with audiobooks I could, indeed, find time to read--while I did the dishes, washed the car or exercised. More than that, I realized how much I longed to read. I yearned to lead a well-read life.

I was not alone. So many customers and friends told me they wished they had more time to read. The mission I set for myself--first in writing The Little Guide to Your Well-Read Life and now in conducting a national Well-Read Life campaign--has been to show people how simple it is to seize their own well-read lives.

It has nothing to do with which books you read or even how many. It's a matter of being in book love--of finding those books that speak so strongly to your interests that you automatically find the time to read them. Think of romantic love that can last a lifetime; the exhilaration is the same.

The other key is to practice permission-based reading. Give yourself permission to give up on books that don't speak to you. To read more than one book at a time, and more than one kind of book. And rather than a reading list, to have a list of candidate books--not titles chosen at random but books that align with the many interests in your life.

The more I've read those books that speak to me, the better I've understood that books are not just about reading but about living--living a larger life because I'm more engaged with the world. And leading an active life rather than a passive one, being the athlete of life rather than the spectator.

The metaphor is apt. One of the findings in the study on reading that the National Endowment for the Arts published in 2004 was that people who read more were more likely to attend sporting events. And not only attend them, but participate in them.

Far from being solitary and indulgent, a well-read life can be one that connects us to each another and that does good in the world. If we want to boost literacy in America, who better to model that behavior--at home, in schools or through corporate initiatives--than those who are on fire with their own reading?

It's also important that these teachers know how to lead their pupils to great books. That means, in part, knowing how to take full advantage of that marvelous American institution called the public library. Libraries hold treasures that too many of us either don't know about or have long forgotten. They remind us that we live in El Dorado, and that books are the gold at our feet.

Anatole Broyard said that "a good book is never exhausted. It goes on whispering to you from the wall." My hope is to help more people learn to hear those whispers.

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