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Entries in Reading (43)


Yet another post about books for women

Can you stand another post about women and reading? It's been on my mind, not just because of Melissa's post from Monday, but from other reading I have done. 

If one is a reader, she ought to read good books. Good books edify, challenge, and help us to think. We must not think that being well-read makes us "better" than a woman who does not read much. Sometimes, it's good to get our noses out of the books and get busy serving, too.

I think it's good that we read a variety of books, too. There is nothing wrong with reading a good fiction book, or a biography of someone who wasn't a Christian, or a book about a health or science issue. Reading is a joy; we ought to read things that make us feel joyful. God has graciously gifted people with the ability to write with eloquence; yes, even non-Christians. I think a little fiction never hurt anyone. 

What makes a book "good?"

A question has rolled around in my mind, though, when I have read articles about the dearth of wise reading choices among Christian women: what makes a book "good?"  How do we know we're reading a bad book? Is it just a matter of taste? I think in some respects our pre-suppositions will be a huge determiner in that regard. Someone who embraces Reformed theology may have a different views of what is a good book as opposed to someone who is not.

Like all of our decisions, Scripture must inform our thoughts. I think when it comes to directing women (and men) to wise reading decisions (as well as what they watch on television, at the movie theatre, or the music they listen to) the beginning of wisdom in that area is a knowledge of Scripture. While we won't find specific directives of "read this, but not that," we will find guidelines about what is good to fill our minds with.

I think we women need to look for books that will help us understand the bible better. Yes, that means "how to" study books, and "why we study" books, but it may mean books on how to interpret correctly. I think that in addition to reading reviews to learn about books, we should also be reading commentaries, because that will help us understand Scripture better. Reading a commentary is like watching someone else who has expertise unfold the Scripture for us.

Flashback to 2013

Here is an excerpt from a post I wrote two years ago about why I think women ought to read commentaries:


While there are books galore out there, covering a myriad of topics for women, written by women, I highly recommend reading a commentary...

What is the value of this?  It focuses us back to the bible.  While a book on parenting, or marriage, or how to deal with anxiety are good topics to explore, something that really gets me into the text is essential. Commentaries get me deeply into the word, and as I meditate on it, my mind is filled with truth, and that equips me to first deal with whatever issue I may be working on, and second, enables me to evaluate the content of other books I am reading.

Women read a lot of books.  What are we reading?  Are we reading methods for a better life or an easier time, or are we reading books that take us back to Scripture? Are we reading critically?  And by that I don't mean with a critical spirit, but with a discerning eye.  

In addition to the Reformed Expository series, there are other similar commentaries.  John MacArthur's commentaries on the New Testament are more like sermons.  Dale Ralph Davis has a series of commentaries on the Old Testament.  Look for books by Martyn-Lloyd Jones that deal with bible passages. His series on Romans  is 15 volumes, and his series on Ephesians is 8 volumes. Those are obviously for the very ambitious reader.  I've read the first volume from his series on Romans, and it's rich teaching. I'm currently beginning his book Life in Christ, which is a study in I John. If you want a really deep study of the Sermon on the Mount, get into Lloyd-Jones's book Studies on the Sermon on the Mount; it's excellent. These are not technical books; they are taken from sermons he preached.

Getting into the word is an obvious must for the Christian, but with all that good reading out there, we can often read very quickly, rather than really dwelling on things.  A commentary will help us slow down a little, and get us really thinking about what we're reading.

Where You Can Find Suggestions 

In addition to the commentaries mentioned here, I would also recommend the series The Bible Speaks Today. The volumes are meaty witout being overly technical. John Stott is editor of the New Testament series, and I have read his book on Galatians, and am in the midst of using his commentary on Ephesians for my Sunday school class.

Ligonier has a series of posts recommending commentaries for all of the books of the bible. Many of them are much more academic type commentaries, but if you read the whole post and check out the "Runners Up" section, you will find more popular level ones. Tim Challies also has a list of suggested commentaries, and he includes a more popular level book in each post.

Spiritual insight comes from the Spirit, and he speaks loud and clear in God's Word. That is always the first book we should consider when we evaluate our reading habits.


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.

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