What kind of books should we read? Saint Theophan gives us advice on this after he warns us about placing too much emphasis on reading books. Our primary emphasis should be to put our spiritual lessons into action. When we do read, we should select books that will enhance our spiritual growth. So we need to select books with careful discrimination.
Saint Theophan advises,
Read with discrimination and verify what is being read through the genuine truth of our faith. What agrees with it, accept. What does not agree with it, reject as thought against God, and throw out any book that expresses such thoughts.When we are serious about progressing along the spiritual path we will focus our study only on those things related to this goal. Most of us already have a general knowledge gained through our general education, but, we lack wisdom about following the spiritual path. Christian spirituality not taught in most schools of general education, especially at the college level. Saint Theophan reminds us that "human wisdom cannot be compared with spiritual wisdom."
If you have the goal to be united with God and to attract the Holy Spirit to work actively thorough you, then you need to focus on this goal. Saint Theophan warns that if "you pursue two different goals, you will not accomplish even one." I had a Japanese friend who reminded me once that if you try to chase two rabbits you not catch either one of them.
The question then is should we read anything besides spiritual things.
Saint Theophan says,
I would tell you with reservation, in a low voice: You may if you like, but just a little and not indiscriminately. Take this as a sign: When you are in a good mode spiritually and begin reading a book containing human wisdom, if the good mood begins to desert you, git rid of the book.He then advise us to seek books that give us insights into the nature of God's creation or the history of mankind which has been guided by God. He says, "God reveals himself in nature and history in the same way as in His Word." But there is a problem with many scientific explorations of nature . They often try to explain the origin of the world without God and have lurking in them a rejection of God. Obviously these books should be avoided.
Saint Theophan says,
It is good to understand the structure of plants and animals, especially man, and the laws of life as they are manifested in them. Great is the Divine Wisdom in all of the! Unknowable!Finally he addresses the question of novels. Should we read them? Here is what he says,
There re good ones... To find out whether they are good, however, you must read them, and after you have finished, you will have acquired such tales and images... I think its better to not read them. When a benevolently minded person who has read some story recommends it, you may read it.Keep you eye on your goal. Do not be like the hunter who tries to cause two rabbits and gets neither one.
Reference: The Spiritual Life, pp 285-286