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Entries in Reading (42)


A book or a girlfriend?

A number of years ago, I recommended a book to someone. It was by J.I. Packer. I really loved it, so felt free to recommend it. The person to whom I recommended it did not like it. When I asked why, the response was that it wasn't "friendly" enough. When I asked for clarification, she answered, "I want to read a book by someone who if I met in real life we'd be friends." I was a little surprised at that response, but I have often seen that she is not the only one who shares that sentiment. And many of the books for women by women seem to want to offer that.

I recently picked up a book (which shall remain nameless) directed to women. I got about three chapters into and became bored. There is nothing wrong with the content, really. I just don't like the folksy presentation. The writer writes as if she's having a conversation with a friend. I kept waiting for an "Isn't that right, girlfriend?" to pop up in the text. 

Now, if you like that kind of book, that is just fine. I don't. I like well-written books and I like books whose writers are eloquent, but I don't really care for books where the writer acts as if she knows me and we're friends. I don't expect to be friends with the author, and if we never meet or are never friends, I'm okay with that. Many of my favourite writers are dead, so I have no expectation of meeting them. And if I saw one of my favourite living authors in an airport somewhere, I would not run over and introduce myself. I don't do that kind of thing. In some cases, I am indeed friends with someone who wrote a book, and that's a real blessing. But I knew her before she was an author, and would have been her friend even if she hadn't written a great book.

This leaves me to wonder if one of the reasons why Christian women buy so many books (good or bad alike) is because they're looking for friendship in a book. Are we actually looking more for a personal connection as opposed to understanding? Are we too busy to foster friendships, or reluctant to ask our pastor, a friend, or our husbands for counsel? So we turn to a book?

The past month I have struggled with sleep and a few other health issues. I've done my share of online searches to get counsel. Yesterday, because of the lack of sleep, I felt drained and discouraged. I could feel anxiety pressing in on me. I finally told myself after lunch to get off the internet. Instead, I sought the counsel of a real, live, in the flesh friend. And she, in love, gave me the best counsel I could ever want. 

I know this woman. I've worked with her, served with her, prayed with her, laughed with her, and wept with her. While getting counsel from books is great, I sometimes wonder if we aren't looking for too much in their pages. How many personal struggles could we keep to ourselves, never talking to anyone about them because we can just read books about them? How often do these books we read to get counsel from prevent us from searching the Scriptures ourselves? Or pray about the matter?  I wish some enterprising sociologist would write a book about the reading habits of Christian women. I'd read it.

I like books. I like good books. But I'm not concerned about getting a buddy out of every reading experience. A book can be a good friend, but there's nothing like a living friend.


There is more to life than reading

With all of phrases out there on the internet about the joys of reading, that title probably doesn't seem fitting. For someone who loves to read, it feels funny saying it.

Over the past few weeks, I've read what others have read, how much others have read, what the favourite books of 2014 were for others. And now I'm reading how much, how often, which books, and what approach to reading others have in mind for their reading in 2015. All of that discussion inspires me to evaluate my own reading goals.

Of course, the goal every year is just to read as time allows. In 2015, I plan not to review books, because frankly, I don't enjoy reading on a digital device, and I don't like being rushed. I want to really know the books by the end of reading.

This year, my goal for reading is, obviously to read Scripture more, and study it well, especially as it relates to my teaching. That is my priority. After that, I have only four books so far that I want to finish for sure in 2015:

The Existence and Attributes of God, by Stephen Charnock. I'm aiming to have it read by the end of April.

Selina, Countess of Huntingdon, Faith Cook. 

From Heaven He Came and Sought Her. I read the first four chapters already, but got interrupted.

New Horizons in Hermeneutics by Anthony Thiselton. I saw Thiselton's work referred to in Is There a Meaning in This Text over and over again, so I want to read this.

I have a few fiction books in mind which are easily managed over a weekend, but other than that and the commentaries I use for my teaching, my reading goals are flexible.

But I have other goals.

I want to take more pictures, and get better at it.

I want to knit my husband a sweater.

I want to knit really cute scarves for two little girls I know.

I want to bake bread regularly. Once upon a time, I baked four loaves a week. I want to do that again.

I want to paint my bathroom.

I want to teach a young mom to knit. We have plans to give this a try early in the New Year.

I want all of my plants to be alive and thriving instead of being rescued from death every few months.

I want organized kitchen drawers.

I want to take food to my cooking-phobic sons more often.

I want to meet my friends for tea more often.

I want to be able to read a book and be able to discuss it in depth with a friend rather than promptly forgetting all about it three weeks later.

Reading is great, and I love it. There's nothing wrong with reading 150 books a year. But that takes time, and it means taking time away from something else, usually my home, family, or friends. There is no way I can do it all. Technology has us fooled into thinking we can stretch ourselves really thin without any tearing or cracking occurring. Unless I plan to give up sleep (and I'm already finding it difficult to live on the six hours my body seems to allow me) entirely, I have to be modest in my reading goals.

And of course, trimming reading goals means shutting my eyes to the ever-present cry of "You Must Read This!" Must I?

Yes, I love reading. But I want a balanced life, and there are so many excellent things to do. I want to do those things, too. And if my "Read in 2015" list is small, that is just fine.


Not your typical "Favourite Reads From 2014" list

This afternoon, I was tidying up my bookshelves, putting my "want to reads" for 2015 at eye level on the shelf, so I was thinking about what I read in 2014. 

My favourite book of the year was Kevin DeYoung's Taking God at His Word. I'm still remembering snippets from it, months later, so I guess that was a reading success. Others which I read, I'm ashamed to say I have forgotten, especially if I read it for review, because I always feel so pressured to finish. I don't think I'll do much reviewing anymore because of that. And who cares, anyway? No one is waiting for my opinion on books.

The books I remember most vividly are the ones about and by two extraordinary women, Nellie McClung and Lucy Maud Montgomery (sorry to all of the folks who don't care about these things, but I am, after all, Canadian. This is where you can click away if you're bored).

I think I read, in addition to her own autobiography, three other volumes about Nellie McClung. She was an amazing, energetic woman, and even though I think she and I would have disagreed about a few things, I admire her very much. I appreciate her efforts to bring justice to women in Canada, especially in the area of property rights and the right to vote. She was a woman of faith, and she speaks about it openly. She had a love for Western Canada that I share, and hearing her stories about places in Manitoba of which I'm familiar did my heart good. Someone else who loves the Prairies is okay with me.

The other woman I spent time with (and continue to) is Lucy Maud Montgomery. In addition to re-visiting her novels, I've been reading her selected journals. Mary Rubio, one of Montgomery's biographers, along with Elizabeth Waterson, put out five volumes of these journals in co-operation with Montgomery's heirs. If you read the journals and are familiar with her fiction, you can easily see the parallels. Waterson also authored a book, which I've begun, that shows the parallels of Montgomery's life with the novels she wrote.

Montgomery had a very sad life, and despite being a minister's wife, had some lingering doubts about God which occasionally came across as bitterness. I'm just getting into the years when the Methodist Church of Canada and the Presbyterian Church of Canada joined together to become the United Church of Canada, and it's quite interesting. She was not in favour of the union, but at the same time, her faith can hardly be described as orthodox, considering she gives accounts of using a Ouija board after the death of her beloved cousin. She was a woman not entirely comforted by her faith, and her marriage was not a happy one.

My favourite Montgomery book is not Anne of Green Gables. While I liked it, and read it over and over again as a girl, my favourite is Rilla of Ingleside, which is set during World War I. It is a novel unique for its time, because it is one of the few which depicts the role of women during the First World War. There are a number of critical works which recognize its contribution in that regard.

When I read the volume of Montgomery's journals written during the war years, I found over and over again, phrases and descriptions that were taken verbatim from her journals which she put into Rilla of Ingleside. Montgomery's reaction to the war was quite profound and intense, which I think was quite typical for her disposition.

After re-reading Rilla of Ingleside, I found a volume of essays entitled A Sisterhood of Suffering and Service: Women and Girls of Canada and Newfoundland in the First World War. It was a fascinating look into the contributions of Canadian women during World War I, both here and in France. They are the kind of stories that aren't well known, but I found completely engaging.

In January, I'll be picking up Emily of New Moon again. I read it for the first time last winter. In her journals, I am at the point in her life where she has just finished writing it. I'm curious to see how the passages in it compare to what I remember about her childhood journals.

People may consider Montgomery's literature "childish," or for young audiences, but I still enjoy it. She had a gift for describing the world around her. Her stories may not be gritty enough for young readers these days, but she's part of my heritage, too, and I'm thankful that I grew up with her, and am growing old with her, too.


But what if I don't like to read?

Not everyone is a lover of reading. And that's really okay. 

My 22 year old son reads, but he is not a real lover of reading the way my daughter and other son are. He would prefer to sit with his guitar and make music, or with his markers and sketch pad and draw. It isn't that I didn't work to foster a love of reading in him. Actually, he read quite a lot as a child. But not everyone has to love reading to the exclusion of all else.

Books are actually luxuries when you stop to think about it. There was a time when owning a book was very costly, and public libraries were not even thought of. There was a time when people's lives were so labour intensive just to put food on the table that only the privileged few were able to spend any time reading. There was a time when people only ever heard the word of God spoken from the pulpit of their church because owning a bible was cost prohibitive, and most people could not read, anyway. Even today, there are Christians who cannot afford to have the Bible, let alone a private library. The freedom to buy every "must read" out there is a phenomenon of the West; it's not a universal truth.

Yet there is still a big push for people, especially Christians, to read. And I think reading is important. I think reading is an excellent way to pass the time, and a way to open up the world to someone. I can't imagine not reading. But I also think that we can show a bit of snobbery in our attitude toward reading.

You don't read? Pagan.

You don't like John Owen? Lightweight.

You read Christian fiction? Get the elders.

Just today on my Facebook feed, Grammarly had a picture up of a woman saying, "The least attractive thing you can say to me is 'I don't read books.'" And of course, we who love to read and may have spouses who like to read, laugh at this, and nod.

My husband read voraciously as a child, and in our early married life, he continued to. But that is no longer the norm for him. With his work, he simply doesn't have time to read the way he used to. After a long day at work, dealing with people, financial statements, and irate policy holders, he finds playing a video game more relaxing, or better yet, going out to chop wood. And you know what? He's not a great reader of theology. That doesn't mean he doesn't have good theology. He just doesn't care to read it. I read a whole lot more theology than he does, but curiously, he's more patient than I am, kinder, and extends grace more easily than I do.

In our love of reading, we have to be careful not to be prideful about it. The litmus test of whether one is or is not a Christian isn't how many systematic theologies he has on his shelf, or whether he can rattle off the differences between supralapsarianism and infralapsarianism in under a minute. Let's remember what a true disciple of Christ does:

By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:35)

One of the godliest women I have ever known is my husband's grandmother. She loved the Lord with all her heart, loved to read the bible, and loved to worship with God's people. She was not a great reader. But she was kind, gentle, and faithful. 

I am friends with a lot of women who aren't big readers, or who read Christian fiction rather than what I choose to read. They are not lacking in faith and love. In fact, one woman I know who isn't a big reader has taught me by her example what it means to walk through suffering, to be joyful in suffering, and how to love others. 

I love to read. I love to read theology. But I'm not going deem every woman who doesn't as a lightweight or a woman without spiritual convictions. I don't like to get together with women and shop, and I don't enjoy making pretty centrepieces for my holiday table; I wouldn't want another woman judging me for that and saying I'm not a "real woman."

We need to read with a purpose, widely, deeply, and thoughtfully; that is true. But above all, we need to read with humility.


Lessons from credit card statements

Yesterday, I went through our stash of credit card statements to file them away. When they come in, I put them in a box and eventually file them away in a cabinet when the box gets full. Eventually, we shred them and get rid of them. It took me a long time. After I was finished, I went to my online banking and opted for e-statements instead of paper. Why had I not done this sooner? 

As I went through and filed them in order of date, I was of course naturally drawn to the purchases. These went as far back as 2007, so there were a lot of purchases. There were a few vendors that popped up repeatedly: Amazon, Christian Book Distributors, and Westminster Books being the most frerquent in the last two years. Yes, the majority of the purchases on those cards which I made were books. As I flipped through the statements, I had a momentary flash where I contemplated adding up how much I've spent on books in the past two years, but then thought better of it. To be honest, when I was finished, I didn't feel all that great.

Some of those purchases were good ones, and some of them -- maybe most of them -- were books that I bought because it was the "latest and greatest." Every day, through my social media channels, someone somewhere is telling me I must read this or that book. And I, being the sheep that I am (i.e. dumb) I followed along with a click of my mouse.

I wondered how many of those books I bought because I wanted to read them or because I didn't want to be left out of a conversation. How many of them did I buy because I thought they would fix a problem, or give me profound understanding? How many of them actually did such a thing? I'm willing to bet that if I knew the titles of those books, only a handful would be ones I actually remembered in any detail. 

I left the whole exercise feeling like a real failure as a wife, because I know that there were times when I was not being a good steward of our finances. When we buy a Christian book, we comfort ourselves with the knowledge that it's for our spiritual benefit, and we justify our purchase. I don't think it's accurate to say that people who can't buy as many books as they want will languish spiritually. Some of the most godly people I know aren't really big readers.

I wonder how a woman like me, in Medieval times (assuming she made it past 40) learned spiritual truths? She wouldn't have had her own bible, let alone any commentaries. If she was literate, she could have copied portions of a bible, but in all likelihood, she probably had to memorize anything she wanted to remember. As I mentioned, I probably don't even remember most of what I read. How would I fare today if all of a sudden I had to memorize things I read and found intereseting? We are so spoiled now with digital books that don't take up room on our shelves and are cheaper, that we don't actually have to remember anything we've read. We can just look in our clippings. And while I'm at it, what is the benefit of having to remember less? If we don't have to remember as much, what do we do that extra space in our brains? I hope the answer isn't playing Angry Birds.

I love reading, and I'm not going to be foolish enough to say I'm never buying another book. But I also want to be financially responsible, and use our money wisely. And I want to interact with what I'm reading more fully. If I have to struggle to remember what I've read, then maybe I need to slow down. Maybe I need to savour things longer. We are so blessed to have access to cheap books. The men and women who lived before us certainly did not, and there are Christians in other parts of the world for whom books are a luxury. After yesterday's exercise, I'm going to get another box ready for the Christian Salvage Mission. Hopefully that rather sickening feeling I had yesterday afternoon will remain in my radar, and I'll be a lot more circumspect with regard to book buying.

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