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Entries in Reading (39)


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.


The tyranny of the "must read"

Most of my reading friends have similar problems to mine: not enough time, and an ever-expanding "to read" list. Since I have been trying not to buy books this year (true confession: I have caved once or twice already, and I will cave again when I get this book), I have noticed how often I am told I "must" read something. For days, social media will be taking about it. The latest and greatest cannot be missed or I will be out of the loop.

The same goes for blog posts. Headline: "The best article dealing with Controversy A," or "So and So Has the Definitive Word on Controversy B." Social media feeds will have a glut of reactions to said articles, reactions that are helpful, and reactions that leave me wondering what their mamas would say if they saw such conduct.

All of this can become consuming. A "quick" visit to the internet turns into 45 minutes, or 60 minutes. The new and unread book pile gets larger. You look up at your shelves and you realize that you have no more room, and maybe the funds invested in that book could have gone to something else. And yes, Kindle does deal with space issues, but $5 here and there can add up. And who is controlling us when we read only what others say we must?

It's a longing to feel part of something, I suppose. 

I have a Beagle who is the Beagle-ist of Beagles, and by that, I mean her nose controls her. She loses all sense of reason when that snout hits a patch of grass. We can be walking due south at a nice, regular pace, but when she catches a whiff of something, she will stop dead and if it were not for the restraint of the leash, she would be gone in another direction. 

That is what it feels like when I give in to the tendency of the "must read" exhortation.

There is nothing wrong with following bunny trails and taking the suggestion of a friend, but "must read" is relative. As somone on Twitter commented, it's only a bargain if you need it.

When I give into the must read urge, I'm taking up time that could be used reading something I need more or will enjoy better. It means I may be reading more than I should be, taking time away from living. I do love to read, but the reality is that I live in a world where there is a family, people, a local church, and a home. There are things to be photographed, places to walk, food to prepare, things to create, lessons to teach, conversations to have, and prayers to be uttered. For some, there are children to teach, cuddle, and care for; or grandchildren to love, read to, and take outside to play with.

I love to read, but I love other things, too. People are important; real, in the flesh people. My home is important, and while my children are grown, that's no excuse to let the laundry pile up so I can read.

That phrase "you must read this" is a marketing tool, really. Social media resembles journalism more than anything, and in that medium, extrapolation and exaggeration are useful tools. People always want to feel like they're doing what they ought to do. However, before we give into that temptation to read it because we must, let's just ask this: "Why must I?" Maybe it will make us pause. Maybe we'll say, "Not now." And the world will keep on turning.


Dissent without bravery

I just finished reading a short novel called Aleta Dey. It is by the Canadian author and suffragist, Francis Marion Beynon. She is lesser known than other suffragists largely because she was a pacifist during World War I. Canada was much more British at that time, and objection to the war was seen as very bad, indeed.

Aleta Dey is allegedly semi-autobiographical. It tells the story of a woman who struggles with the tension between activism and her love for a man. At one point in the story, Aleta is jailed for protesting in the war while the man she loves is in France fighting.

From the time of her childhood, Aleta feels a desire to go against the popular opinion, but remains quiet, likely due to her harsh father who doesn't allow for dissent. In an episode at school, she withholds her opinion in a class dispute, and offends her friend who really needed her support. She makes the decision to go to his house after school and apologize to him for not standing up to him. As she walks, she reflects on the difficulty it is to have a desire to dissent while actually being very fearful:

As I followed the footpath along the barbed wire fence, which enclosed the pasture field, I thought with deep disgust of what had happened at school. Why couldn't I follow straight and swiftly my own opinions as the yellow buttercups at my feet went without self-conscious to their goal? Why did find myself apologetic when I did not agree with the majority? When I was given a mind that questioned everything, why was I not given a spirit that feared nothing? Since minds came into being that questioned things it seemed the world needed that kind of mind. Then why be ashamed of it? So I reasoned fruitlessly, for the wings of my soul had been clipped in my infancy. I had lost the power to fly while retaining the will to rise above the clouds of bigotry and prejudice.

Something else is interesting about this story, and reflects the author's life, and that is the rejection of God. In the first paragraphs of the story, Aleta reveals that the kind of God presented in her home was not loving, but harsh:

I think I was born to be free, but my parents, with God as one of their chief instruments of terror, frightened me into servility. 

Aleta struggles against God often in the story. Beynon herself, born into a Methodist home, ultimately rejected God.

I was reminded of how difficult it is for faith to be nurtured in a child when the parents are harsh and God is depicted as a force to, as Aleta narrates, "frighten into servility."

I can relate a little to Aleta's words about feeling uncomfortable if I don't agree with the majority. I can also relate to wishing I was not afraid of the opinions of others. The difference, I think, is that I recognize that feeling as pride, whereas Aleta seems not to have reconciled that.


Living by accident?

I am not sure when the first time was that I heard the word "intentionally," but I remember at the time thinking, "If we're not living with intention, are we living by accident?" Now, of course, I understand what it means. Living with intention, with a purpose, is in contrast to living without a direction or goal. When we say we're living intentionally, we mean we're being more pro-active, more goal-oriented.

I think I have always lived that way. I have always been a planner, a list maker, and someone who is motivated by goals. University was wonderful for learning because it had goals and expectations. I thrive in an environment when someone says, "Here, do this." Now, I'm not the kind of list-maker who goes into apoplexy when she misses ticking something off the list, and often the list is only in my head, but I like having a general idea as to where I'm headed. 

This year, some friends and I are reading intentionally. We each have lists we're following along with, and sharing our insights. Despite my inclination to keep a list, in the past, I have tended not to want to read in this way. Inevitably, my list fades into the background as I'm reading due to other books coming along through a footnote, or a quoted passage. I'm hoping I can stick to it, small as it is.

The thing about living with too much planning is that it doesn't allow for the unexpected, and sometimes, the unexpected is really wonderful. I never planned to read Stephen King's On Writing. It was an impulse buy. It was among my favourites in 2013. If we're going to be intentional, our intentionality needs to be a little fluid. Or, if you like, intentional fluidity. How's that for a new term? Or did someone already invent it?

In the summer of 1984, I was living very intentionally. My intention was to work at a job for a number of months, long enough to save money to leave Toronto. At that time, I planned on moving west where there was a "someone" that I wanted to spend time with. During my time on that job, I met another "someone," which made me review my plans. A year later, I was converted to Christ, and in 1987, I was married.  I'm glad that my intentionality didn't interfere in that case. Thankfully, God is much more powerful than my determination to live intentionally on occasion.

Reading lists and plans are good, but unless the books are read in the conext of a pursuing a degree or designation of some kind, I think we can feel safe being flexible with our reading. A little random isn't bad for a while, either. If my intentionality reveals my desire to say I've read this book or that, or so I can say I've read some exceptionally large number of books, then that doesn't seem like reading for the joy of it

This year, while I follow along with my very fluid "to read" list, I'm sure I will come up with a nugget I wasn't expecting. I can't want to find out what it is.


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