Read Widely

 

x7cdil50kky-clem-onojeghuoIt’s a brand new year and I have many thoughts brewing. I haven’t made official resolutions, because that doesn’t work for me but as with every new year I’m reordering my plans and priorities.

One priority this year is to read even more. I know most people dislike “what I read in…” posts, so I’ll share a little of what I’m reading now.

I do not consider myself an excellent writer, far too many muddled thoughts, but on a few occasions I have had people ask what can they do to be a better writer. I do not feel equipped to give advice because I need it myself but my one thing is always, “Be a better reader” but to add to that, “Read widely”. It is fact that a baker cannot make delicious bread if he has not become a friend to the ingredients. To bake and to bake deliciously are two very different things. It is the same for reading and writing. The art of reading widely should be something we all know how to do.

When I say “read widely” I mean not only books by many authors but also many types of genres and on many different things. Mix a little fiction with your religious non-fiction, a little poetry with your leisure reading. Try a book of history with a beloved YA book. I have heard “I read, I just don’t like fiction” or “I find non-fiction boring”. Let me encourage you that there over 130 million books in this world and you may have yet to find your favorite.

There are three reasons why I believe we should read widely; First for wonder, second for growth, and thirdly for understanding and wisdom.

“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”
― T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets

Firstly, reading for wonder will involve a lot of fiction reading. My personal opinion is that individuals that do not read fiction are doing themselves a huge disservice but especially those tasked with teaching and leading others. Of course you can take that opinion with a grain of salt but I do believe “leaders should be readers”, and “leaders should be wide readers”, I should put that on a T-shirt. maybe not as catchy as the original. Why? Because the world is already so bereft of light when we can’t see the beautiful, we need to grasp on to beauty when we see it and understand darkness in contrast to light. Also, because all wonder points us back to the awe-inspiring King, the beauty of creation shows that the creator is most beautiful. In addition, You do not need to teach children so much “how to be” if they have a steady diet of books that allow them to understand “the how” firstly in their own minds and hearts. I do not then understand why we would cut ourselves off from beauty when it can only enhance our lives. fiction is the land where all worlds exist. fiction allows for wonder far past our own little plot and gives us ability to awe at things beyond our imagining. We should be enraptured with the good gift of the written word and wonder on it’s beauty. Fiction gives us a safe space to think deeply.

I have heard many arguments against fiction. None have been convincing. It’s one thing if you are a pragmatist and choose not to read fiction but it is quite another thing to make arguments against it. Someone once told me that fiction was lying and this made me speechless. Storytelling is not lying but it CAN be quite the opposite, truth telling. Thank God that Jesus was a storyteller and wove truth through parable and the Psalms to show us the range of our humanness and our great need.

I personally believe that the child-likeness that is lauded in the Bible would have a harder time being extinguished if we read about wondrous things in our Bibles and books more often.

“I write, not for children, but for the child-like, whether they be of five, or fifty, or seventy-five.”
― George MacDonald

There is wonder to be read also in non-fiction, in poetry, even in histories and biographies.

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I am a believer because of reading C.S. Lewis. What I mean is that C.S.Lewis was the tool used to prod me toward faith. As a child I read stories of heroism and magic and longed so badly for that land. As a young adult I read his religious works and the magic that I remembered now made sense. The wonder sat in waiting to make connections I never knew would be made as an 11-year old reading The Magician’s Nephew. Even now when I read Wendell Berry or Sigrid Undset I am touched by that awe. Reading is a tool for seeing, fiction is a sweet looking glass to see the world through. Friends are made in fiction that could never be made elsewhere and those friends are friends for life. If you have an introverted child or a child that becomes lonely easily, a good living book can soothe and give wonder like a playmate and friend.

Secondly, reading for personal or spiritual growth. This does not always mean Christian non-fiction. The greatest “Growing Books” for me have been sometimes biographies or narratives of Missionaries and Martyrs. The Hiding Place affected me in ways that I didn’t even now as a child and there are images from that book that have stayed visually with me for a long time. A biography that influenced me as a young child,  Joni  about Joni Erickson Tada changed my perspective greatly.

Fiction too can allow us to empathize and stand in the corner with people very different from us. Christians should want this.

“Fantasy is hardly an escape from reality. It’s a way of understanding it.” -Lloyd Alexander

A lovely Christian religious non-fiction title can also prod us toward growth.  There are books that I have read and journaled about in my commonplace book that were tools to a forever change in my heart regarding some personal matter. Recently I have been reading the puritan Jeremiah Burroughs’ The Jewel of Christian Contentment and it has helped greatly with a lifetime of worries. I am thankful for this book and it has happily been added to a place of honor in my mind’s library where books like the Orthodoxy and Mere Christianity lie.

It is almost impossible to become a better writer by never reading a book, so personal growth in reading is a benefit to those that would love to write. I lack so much as a writer and although I am not a great Grammarian (Mark Twain said it’s ok) I like to think that reading vigorously has sparked my desire to write down my thoughts and create a space for wonder and growth. Stephen King has famously said that if you want to be a writer you need to read a lot and write a lot. That is something I have heard from many writers and take it to heart.

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“Force yourself to read books you normally wouldn’t read. For me, a self-confessed theology-lover, that means reading fiction. For novel-fans, it means adding a little Packer to the diet. If you are planning on being a good preacher, you’d better like good stories. The greatest preachers in Christianity have known how to express deep theological concepts through riveting narratives. So, hunker down and start reading classic authors like Hugo, Dickens, and Dostoevsky. Watch these brilliant authors paint masterful pictures of sin and redemption and salvation. Hold on to memorable characters. Enter other worlds through the imaginations of Tolkien and Lewis.
Secondly reading for growth. And when I say “growth”, I really mean the stretching of our hearts, compassion. Reading widely allows us to step outside of our insularity and into the world of others, into different experiences and hardships and joys and celebrations. It helps us to understand, love, show compassion to others. It helps our own hearts ” -Trevin Wax

Lastly, reading for wisdom, as a believer the number one book we read for wonder, guidance, growth and wisdom should be the Bible. It is the foundation of all things. It is very hard to see beauty in ashes if we do not see the bigger story or to rejoice in suffering if we do not know the true and better way that awaits.

There are many books that can also help us toward wisdom, firstly the Bible in books like Proverbs but also a book such as the Institutes of Religion or Chesterton’s Orthodoxy, books that Charlotte Mason considers “stiff books” that practically challenge our dull senses awake to think about what we think on a matter and to read more and study about it. Even books of Allegory such as the Pilgrim’s Progress or a sweet novel such as Stepping Heavenward or the always wise words of Wendell Berry.  There is so much wisdom one can glean from Church Fathers to humble authors if we would just read them, although wisdom is a process and reading a good book does not equate to being wise, wisdom comes through understanding and being open to truth.

“A man should hear a little music, read a little poetry, and see a fine picture every day of his life, in order that worldly cares may not obliterate the sense of the beautiful which God has implanted in the human soul.”
― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

God has gifted us with much beauty in this world, through word, art, music, and life. If we look for it, it is there. If we choose to forget it, the alternative is a sort of mind death, where we just run on auto-pilot in this fast moving culture from one mind-numbing thing to another, never stopping to awe, to grow, to become wise on truth, goodness and beauty from above.

“You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.”

― Ray Bradbury

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So, my reading long-awaited reading list, just kidding. In the Charlotte Mason Companion by Karen Andreola recommends a Stiff Book, a Moderately Easy Book, and a Novel. Charlotte Mason, my 19th century educational mentor, would have read much like this and more, it would have included poetry and bible reading as well, so here is my list:

Bible and Devotional Reading: The ESV on a reading plan, Morning and Evening by Charles Spurgeon, and The Cloud of Witness.

Stiff Book: Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton, Charlotte Mason and The Great Recognition edited by Nicole Handfield

Moderately Easy (Does not mean twaddle, just something easily read): Parenting by Paul David Tripp

Novel: Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset

Poetry: Selected Emily Dickinson (with Emma for homeschool) and Roots to the Earth by Wendell Berry (a beautifully illustrated copy gifted to me at Christmas by my husband).

I have reverted to this system to keep me from unwieldy reading lists and although I have many half finished books, I won’t be picking them back up until I’ve finished these above. I pray. I should make a to read in 2017 post to help my brain remember what I want to read and pick back up. I hope 2017 is a year of reading more for all of us.