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Entries in Reading (48)


Favourite Footnote Find

One of the places I get the best suggestions for books is in the footnotes of other books and in suggested reading lists.

Quite a few weeks ago now, I read Rosaria Butterfield's book, and enjoyed it immensely. She had an excellent selection of resources to consider. One of them was Kevin Vanhoozer's book Is There a Meaning in This Text? which is a discussion of how current literary theories have affected how we read and interpret the Bible. I thought this book sounded good when I had a peek at Amazon.

It's one of the most thought-provoking books I've ever read, despite it not being a light read. I could have helped myself by reading an introductory work about literary theories in general first. Despite the work, it's worth the effort to read this book. It has opened my eyes in ways I did not expect and caused me to see how even without thinking consciously of it, I have incorporated postmodern deconstructionist approaches to reading.

The book is divided into two parts, the first describing how postmodern theories work and how they affect how we read the Bible.  The second part is Vanhoozer's response to the issues.  I'm almost at the second part of the book. I want to understand everything clearly before I move on, so I'm reading slowly.

Yesterday, I read this and agreed with this:

Do Christian ministers, teachers, and other students of the Bible really need to make the effort to understand deconstruction and other types of postmodern interpretation? I believe they do... We have an obligation to be intellectually honest, even charitable. Too many critics have written off deconstruction without really taking it seriously, that is to say, without taking the time to understand it. Nothing is to be gained by burning straw men.

I don't think we do ourselves any favours by ignoring the reality that postmodern literary theories have influence how reading is regarded. While many say postmodernism is on its way out (I don't know enough to comment on that), its effects are still seen. The phrase, "what does this bible passage mean to me" is evidence of that. As Vanhoozer says, I think being able to correctly understand a dissenting view while not embracing it is a good thing.

This book is definitely not an easy read, but it's worth the effort. It is sharpening my thinking in ways that can only be good in the long run as I read Scripture and read what othe people have concluded about it. 


The year of deep over wide

I have been reading various articles about reading and reading goals for the year.  Of course, there is always the question of what is better, reading widely or reading deeply.  I think the goals can vary, depending on what I'm reading and what I'm trying to learn.  Because, ultimately, I read to learn. Some people read faster and can manage to read and retain more than others.  I was reading this past week and I actually felt myself hurrying along.  I didn't like that feeling.  I reprimanded myself for being in a hurry.  I think a good book can be savoured and I need to worry less about finishing that magic number of books.

There are some books that require note-taking, and I will jot things down chapter by chapter.  Some books I read without a pencil because a simple, quick read is all I need at that moment.  And some books are quite simply more difficult to read.  Right now, I'm reading Is There a Meaning in This Text? by Kevin Vanhoozer.  I am not nearly as familiar with literary theory as others may be, so this is a slower read for me.  I want to really think about what he's saying, because the issues surrounding reading, writing, text, and meaning are pretty crucial for those of us who believe that Scripture - a text - is the basis for truth.  

I am also reading Jaroslav Pelikan's book The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition.  Michael Haykin's promise in his own book Rediscovering the Church Fathers was that reading Pelikan wasn't easy, but that the book is "a gem." I'm beginning to see what he means.  I cannot rush this book, either.

Reading goals, then, are not always the same from year to year.  I don't read nearly as many books as some people do.  I don't have the free time to read four or five books a week.  I have a husband to spend time with, kids to visit, and lessons to teach.  Right now, I'm more interested in tips for improving concentration. Maybe next year my reading goals will be different.

My point in all this is that we don't assume that reading goals are the same for everyone.  If you have a goal to read a certain number of books, go for it.  I tend to focus on the titles more than the numbers, and if the titles are such that getting through only ten books this year is possible, then I hope I will have benefitted greatly from them. This year is going to be the year of deep over wide.  When the year is over, I want to remember more of what I read rather than know that I've read much. 


Book envy

When I homeschooled, there was a phenomenon (probably still exists) called "Curriculum Envy."  That occurred when a homeschool mom went on a parent message forum and saw all the wonderful success of someone else's curriculum. In all likelihood, for homeschool moms today, Facebook is probably a venue for such conversations.  I can't imagine how hard it is for homeschool moms today to avoid curriculum envy.

It was the classic case of "the grass is always greener." I was always on the lookout for the perfect curriclum or resource, and I admit to buying some real lemons in the curriculum department because of someone's endorsement.  Homeschool resources are very personal and their success has a lot to do with the parent teaching, the child, and the dynamics of the homeschool environment.  But I gave in more than I would like to admit.

Reading can lead one down a similar path.  I was removing the protective covering from dusting my bookshelves yesterday, and I realized just how many "impulse" book purchases are living there.  They are books that are probably really good, and I do plan to read them at some point, but I see that many of them are becaue "everyone" is reading them, and they're "must read" books that will change my life forever.  One cannot be a follower of social media, whether it is Twitter or Facebook, and not be sucked into the vortex of good books about to be released, or online book clubs just starting up.  Just this morning, I had my attention drawn to four instances of such things, and it's not even 9:00 a.m.

We have to use discernment and stewardship in making reading choices.  Quite simply, we can't buy everything.  Part of being a good wife is being fiscally responsible with our resources. And we definitely cannot use "well, it's on my Kindle" as an excuse for continuing to purchase.  No, those books don't take up physical space, but they still cost something.  As an aside, I find that having my Kindle has actually made me less aware of how much I spend on books because I don't see them.  That's another post, I think.

It can be overwhelming to sift through it all. The number of books directed to women alone is staggering at times.  There's help and encouragement for women of all shapes and sizes. That being said, though, I have not seen a lot of books out there encouraging women who mother adult children.  There are lots of helpful books for women stuck in the trenches of toilet training, temper tantrums, and the feeling of domestic drudgery, but I've yet to come across some helpful advice for women who are learning that parenting means "step back and watch."  Any takers out there for writing such a book?  Yes, I know; you're playing with your grandchildren.  Well, if I had some, I'd play with them instead of writing a book, too!

I'm hoping to be firm about my reading plans for this year, and avoid reading things just because someone says I should.  I'll read the reviews, and make a note, but in the meantime, I'm going to flee from book envy. It's starting to get hard to dust around here.


Performing Experiments on Ourselves

I read a little booklet about Facebook and social media.  I will be reviewing it next week.  In it, the author suggested that an article online that exceeds 400 words may be passed over.  I don't know about the accuracy of that statistic, but I can make a couple of observations.

When I began blogging, a popular blogger suggested that keeping a post to 1,000 words was a good idea.  That was almost ten years ago.   I think 1,000 words is pushing it today.  I think the author who suggested 400 words may be closer to being correct.  I wrot a post for Out of the Ordinary, and my first draft was over 1,200 words.  There was no way I could post it at that length, but I was faced with a difficulty:  could I do the topic justice in less than that?

I did my best, but there were things I wished I could have said.  I could have done a "series" but the nature of our blog rather excludes that.  "Series" on blogs are very popular.  It seems as if we are reverting back to the time of Dickens, who first presented his writing in such a way.  I think he would have laughed a great deal at the notion of one of his entries being only 400 words. 

Another thing I have noticed is the fading attention spans of teens.  Apparently, 20 minutes is about all they can manage.  For now.  What will it be like five years from now?  Ten minutes?  How much understanding can one get in ten minutes?

The reality is that some issues and topics are complex, and need more than 20 minutes or 400 words.  How much understanding can we get with such brief attention?  I even find myself falling to this attention deficit thing.  I'm reading Kevin Vanhoozer's Is There a Meaning in This Text, and it is a complex read.  I find myself being able to spend only about 40 minutes at a time before feeling like my mind is wandering.  When I was a student in my first year of university, I could read for hours.

The inner rebel in me wants to shout and complain about this, and say, "Stop!"  "Wait" and "Hold on!"  Surely we can work to stave off this kind of thing?  I'd like to think so, but I am probably either too idealistic, or more likely, utterly deluded.

I think I am going to try to increase my attention span by setting the time on my phone and reading until it goes off.  I'll increase the time by five minutes at regular intervals and see how it goes.  Nothing like performing experiments on oneself.


A random observation about writing styles and reading

On the weekend, we had friends over for dinner.  They are a young couple, same age as my oldest child, and they have two delightful children.  Oh, was so nice to have little people climbing up on my lap and snuggling! But that's not what this is about.

The father is a lover of reading and theology.  After I came back from T4G last spring, I had the opportunity to give him a couple of books because we had two of each freebie that was given.  One of the books I gave him was Matt Chandler's The Explicit Gospel.  I have not read it yet, but I have seen the reviews, and people whose opinions I respect have said good things about it.  I just haven't got around to it yet.

I asked my young friend how he was liking it so far.  He was very positive about it, but he did mention that he finds the style not entirely his favourite kind.  What he meant by that is that he finds it more "conversational" than perhaps what he might read in the Puritans.  He likes the Puritans.  It's not always common to find someone under the age of 25 who is willing to slog through Charnock's Existence and Attributes of God, but he reads widely.  He has been encouraging me to read Atlas Shrugged, which I have yet to do. 

I thought about his comment after he left, and I remembered something my pastor told me once.  He said that the love of stories is important for preaching.  He told me that he can be exegeting a passage of Scripture and he sees eyes looking down and people zoning out, but when he tells a story, people will look up and start listening.  I think that's probably true.  Stories are an excellent way of communicating.

It is true that the language of older generations is not the language of today.  Literature changes, and people don't use such formal language anymore.  I'm thankful for people who can communicate difficult truths in terms that are easy to understand.  I'm even more thankful for people who can do it without compromising meaning, or watering things down.

I know a lot of women who consider my reading list "dry."  In fact, someone I know in real life actually made a comment that was said in a friendly spirit, but contained critique:  what I read is often "not practical."  I wonder if what we often perceive as dry and boring and lacking practicality is simply a stylistic thing.  Because the book is less "conversational," we zone out and maybe feel like it's too dry.  Rebecca, at our group blog, made a comment about such an issue in the comments of a post she wrote recommending books for women.

I don't think everyone will be willing to unravel Charnock.  That's okay.  But I also don't think it's wrong for those who have the time and the means to challenge themselves if they so desire.  I don't think what I read is necessarily lacking in practicality because it is not conversational.  Having a varied diet of books is always a good idea. 

Whatever our reading goals are, I think we all need to read more.  I have been online less over the holidays and reading more.  It's a good thing to do now and then; just unplug and open a book.  Take a pencil, too, and underline.  And if you hate the thought of that, get a notebook.  Even better?   Do both.