Where Did You Get Your Reading List?

Avid Readers Reveal Their Sources for Good Books

The New York Times best sellers list is the ultimate guide to must-read books for many avid readers. However, some readers, like Jonathan Etress, prefer reading lists that are not as well known — such as the Commandant’s Professional Reading List of the U.S. Marine Corps. Every Marine is required to read five books from the list each year.

Etress, facilities manager for the H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering, discovered the reading list about two years ago while listening to a podcast on organizational effectiveness.

“It intrigued me because I had no idea that the Marine Corps has an intentional structure in place for promoting reading at every level of the organization, from the highest-ranking officer to the newest Marine,” Etress said. “I’ve always had a deep respect for our armed services, and I was looking to put some structure around what I was reading, so I started working through the list.”

He said the reading list changes slightly every year, with most of the books remaining the same.

“I’m not normally interested in sci-fi or really even fiction for that matter,” Etress said, “but I really enjoyed Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. It offers some great lessons on leadership and team dynamics.”

Voracious reader Margaret Tate also chooses what to read from a list — an American literature reading list from her daughter’s AP English class when she was a high school junior in 1998.

“The list was compiled by her teacher,” said Tate, a senior writer and editor in Institute Communications. “It’s not a definitive list of great American literature, although most of the books could be found on any such definitive list.”

Tate said the teacher sent the reading list to parents so they could indicate which books they would not want their child to read,

“I had already read 36 of the 152 books on the list, but I saw there were a lot of great books I’d missed,” said Tate. “So, my quest began.”

Now, 20 years later, she has read all but five and a half of the 152 books. She said doesn’t read from any other lists, but if she picks up an interesting book at a yard sale, she will dive in.

“Right now, I’m reading David McCullough’s John Adams, and it’s really good,” Tate said. “I’m also reading William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! from the list, and it’s pure torture.”

One of the things Tate has liked best about the list is the diversity of authors it led her to read, from Faulkner to James Baldwin. “It has opened up so many different historical and cultural doors to me as a reader.”

Another passionate reader, Scott Sergent, gets reading lists from his favorite website: thriftbooks.com.

“The site sells used books at great prices, and it supplies me with lists according to the books I have purchased,” said Sergent, video producer and director at Georgia Tech Cable Network. “I am into history, biographies, and sports, so the lists I get are filled with those types of books.”

Sergent has been using reading lists from Thriftbooks for five years. He likes them because they shed light on books that he otherwise may have missed. He also likes how sometimes a storyline in a book makes him curious about a related subject, and he ventures in that direction.

“An example would be the book I am reading now, Supreme City: How Jazz Age Manhattan Gave Birth to Modern America [by Donald L. Miller],” he said. “The book is about New York City in the 1920s and how America was shaped from the things that went on there, such as the creation of speakeasies, jazz music, politics, the construction of skyscrapers, and the way business was conducted.”

Book lover Sravanthi Meka usually reads one or two books a month, mostly historical nonfiction and biographies.

“I have read a couple from the book clubs of Oprah Winfrey and Reese Witherspoon, but most of those tend to be fiction, and I lean more towards nonfiction,” said Meka, marketing manager in Housing and Conference Services. So, she takes a different approach to finding books, including attending author lectures.

“I am a member of the Atlanta History Center, and they host author lectures several times a month,” Meka said. “I usually go to one every other month, depending on the topics, books, and authors. The first one I attended featured Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie, who co-authored America’s First Daughter, a fictional work about Thomas Jefferson’s daughter, Patsy. Most recently I went to see Janet Dewart Bell, who wrote Lighting the Fires of Freedom: African American Women in the Civil Rights Movement.”

Meka, who wanted to be a librarian until about age 16, also cites museums as a good source for books.

“I go to at least two or three museums in every city I visit, and the gift shops often have great selections of books,” she said. “I don’t always buy the books at the museum, but I’ll make a note and try to find it in the Georgia Tech Library.”

Related Media

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  • America's First Daughter

  • Library Books

  • Ender's Game

  • Lighting the Fires of Freedom: African American Women in the Civil Rights Movement

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Victor Rogers

Institute Communications

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