Friday, December 30, 2011

Lit!: Why You Should Read It (Or, Ramblings of a Reading Mother)

This is a combination post. In it I'll be reflecting back on my 2011 reading year and thinking/planning for where it is that I want to go with books in 2012. A great deal of my thoughts, however, are being shaped by the book Lit!: A Christian Guide to Reading Books, by Tony Reinke (which I discussed, in brief, here.)

Over the course of the past two years, in particular, I've really wanted to make a difference in the way I read books. I think this partially has to do with the fact that I'm now the mother of three small children and therefore my reading time is harder to come by and therefore way more valuable to me. (This truth hit home at the end of this year when I glanced back at my books read in 2011 vs. 2010. In 2010 I read 147 books. This year? 86! I'm ok with any number over 40. Less than that and I think I'd be greatly perturbed.)

For starters though, Reinke divides books into two categories:

1. The Bible; and
2. All other books.

He makes his case for why the Bible should be the Most Important Book in your life and the most frequently read. Being a Christian, I agree with all of his points. As a reader, I would have to honestly say that I fail in this area. I don't make the Bible my top priority. I make other books my priority. As a Christian, this should not be so. But it is so. If, as a Christian, I want to read wisely and well then I need to put "all other books" to the side first thing, and start making the Word of God my top priority.

"If we neglect Scripture in order to read only other books, we not only cut ourselves from the divine umbilical cord that feeds our souls, we also cut ourselves from the truth that makes it possible for us to benefit from the truth, goodness, and beauty in the books that we read." (Chapter 7, Read With Resolve, page 94)

Even as I start to make a 2012 reading plan, I am tempted to say, "Well, I'll start reading the Bible in February once things kick off with the bookclub or the Lucy Maud Montgomery Reading Challenge or this or that." But the "this or that" will not only take over January but it will take over the rest of the year as well, start things off correctly, I'm going to start at the beginning. That is? I'm going to go back to Genesis and read it through however many times I can alongside this book (which I had been wanting forever and finally purchased a copy of):

Gleanings In Genesis, by A.W. Pink

I don't want to box myself in with this book, placing a time limit on it. Rather, I just want to read, glean and understand as much as I can. It may take me two months or three or six. I have no idea. A priority needs to be set though and so I'm going to start here - and now.

"Reading can be ultimately a means to eternally benefit our soul. And this benefit does not hinge upon how smart we are, upon how many books we read each year, or upon how much information we retain. We tap into the eternal value of literature when we read in the presence of God, unveiled to the glory of our Savior." (Chapter 2, Wide-Eyed into the Son, page 37)

Another thing that I've been thinking a lot about for the past few years (but haven't delved as deeply into as I would like) is the power and beauty of stories, "Christian" or no. Every year I host the Chronicles of Narnia Reading Challenge for a variety of reasons:

1. I just love them.
2. I think there is great value in reading them.
3. I think that there is great value in reading them over and over and over again.

Every year the following questions pop up from various people and sources:

1. Why is the Chronicles of Narnia series considered "good" by Christians and yet the Harry Potter series is considered "bad"?
2. What is considered a good use of magic in books and what is considered a bad use?
3. Why do Christians place themselves in reading boxes wherein they can only read the Bible, Elsie Dinsmore and on a wild and wicked day, the Chronicles of Narnia? (Ok, I made that a bit more dramatic but it's not actually that far off base in some quarters!)

The short (and not fully developed) answers to those questions are, for me, as follows:

1. I haven't read Harry Potter yet and so I can't compare.
2. I know that there IS a good use of magic and a bad use in books but I haven't thought out the distinguishing factors for myself just yet.
3. I don't have the foggiest.

I would like to read the Harry Potter series this year and think through some of these questions in a great deal more detail.

"Developing a biblical worldview is labor-intensive, but the result is a discerning mind that is essential if we will benefit from books. If we fail here, we will be flooded with worldviews of other authors and be quickly overwhelmed, confused, and frustrated. On the other hand, firm biblical convictions will make it possible for us to benefit from a broad array of literature by Christians and non-Christians alike." (Chapter 4, Reading from Across the Canyon, page 53)


"God is behind all truth, even the truth that is expressed in non-Christian literature. Truth cannot be fabricated, writes [John] Calvin:

All truth is from God; and consequently, if wicked men have said anything that is true and just, we ought not to reject it; for it has come from God. Besides, all things are of God; and, therefore, why should it not be lawful to dedicate to His glory everything that can properly be employed for such a purpose." (Chapter 5, The Giver's Voice, page 67)

Another problem I face, personally speaking, is spending too much time on the computer. Now, how to solve this one? Janet has discussed the dangers of technology more over at Across the Page and she makes particular arguments about spending time on Facebook which I rather sympathize with. Reading Lit!: A Christian Guide to Reading Books really drove some of the arguments that Janet has been making home to me. I haven't read many books on technology and its effects (sorry, I just can't seem to make myself) but the arguments that Reinke makes in his book about images vs. words and quick bits of information vs. careful, thoughtful sifting of words and information really had an impact on me. I've already significantly decreased my Facebook time. (I think Facebook is a mildly useful tool for keeping in touch with people, but it's heavily overrated. Since most of us are on it "because everyone else is" it might benefit us as a whole if we all agreed to get off!) I don't have the time and space to spell out Reinke's arguments here but I do think that flashing imagines and "soundbites" of information into any variety of people's lives has done me a great disservice when it comes to reading and enjoying books. At the tail end of the 2011 reading year, I was really fighting with myself to sit still and read for a solid hour. (I have roughly 2 hours of reading time available to me a day. But using even one hour was a challenge due to time spent on the computer.) I don't just want to improve that in 2012, I need to.

"But the tension is not simply between the value of words and the value of images. Both language and visual images are valuable. The concern is whether Christians (like us) will be patient enough to find meaning embedded in words, or if we will grow content with the superficial pleasures offered to us in the rapidly shifting images in our culture." (Chapter 3, Reading is Believing, page 43)


"In a world so easily satisfied with images, it's too easy to waste our lives watching mindless television and squandering our free time away with entertainment. We have a higher calling. God has called us to live our lives by faith and not by sight - and this can mean nothing less than committing our lives to the pursuit of language, revelation and books." (Chapter 3, Reading is Believing, page 50)

What this means for Reading to Know, I can't really say just yet. Currently I can keep up a 5-a-week posting "schedule." I can still foresee the ability to do just that because I type faster than I hand write. Some people keep a hand written journal of the books they read. I type mine up and it is, as you read it here, at Reading to Know. Therefore I don't really see my blogger habits changing all that much. I do not post on weekends (and still won't) in part because it helps me to pace myself. The only way I can see my blogging habits changing is if I notice that I'm speed reading just for the sake of posting. So far that hasn't truly been the case but I know when it's happening and so if you start noticing a gap in my posting schedule, you'll just know that I'm forcing myself to read for benefit and not just because I've told myself that I must post something five days a week! (Not that I believe anyone is living with the expectation that they will hear from me five days a week. But people who maintain their own blogs will know exactly what I'm talking about.)

Lastly, a few practical things:

1. I think I'm going to follow this tip as I approach and begin to read any book:

"So how far into a book should a reader go before quitting? This is where the one hundred-pages-minus-your-age rule comes in handy. This rule states that readers should start with one hundred pages and subtract their age. If you are twenty years old, you should give a book eighty pages before quitting. If you're fifty years old, give it fifty pages. The more years, the more reading experience, the less time you need before you can close and shelve a book. And it means that, when you are one hundred, you are free to judge a book by its cover." (Chapter 8, How to Read a Book, page 115)

2. I want to spend time with longer works, with more depth to them. More classics, if you will. I know it will be a challenge for me. I like being able to complete reading challenges for myself and longer books take quite a bit more effort. But I do think it will be worth it.

"When we set out to read important books, we can expect opposition from our hearts. Reading is a discipline, and all disciplines require self-discipline, and self-discipline is the one thing our sinful flesh will resist." (Chapter 9, Literature is Life, page 131)

So, I guess it's safe to say that I am hoping to focus on the area of self-discipline in the area of reading: taking time for good books, reading to figure out my own worldview a little bit better and to make Bible reading my top priority.

In the meantime, I'm (still) grateful to Crossway Books for shooting a copy of Lit! my way as it has had a wee bit of influence in how I intend to read books in the future. This particular title goes on the shelf for a re-read. I rather expect it could stand to be re-read on a yearly basis, to make certain I'm keeping on track in the priorities department!


Amy @ Hope Is the Word said...

I need to make some changes in my reading life, too, Carrie. Like you, reading the Bible has not been my top priority, and I have suffered for it. I plan to change that in the new year. I like your plan of reading and re-reading Genesis until you "get" it. ;-). I have a practical question about your blogging practices, which you don't have to answer: does the 2 hours a day include your blogging time? If not, how much time (and more importantly, when?) do you blog? To write a thoughtful review takes me quite a while!

Annette W. said...

WOW! Loved this post. Want to read Lit! even more now.

I totally get all that you said. I look forward to your thoughts on HP. I only read the first book.

Annette W. said...

Oh, I like Amy's question. As I have been trying to write real thoughtful reviews of books...they often take over an hour!

In addition to Amy's questions, if you choose to answer...does your blogging time include reading others' blogs?

Bluerose said...

I really need to read Lit! It seems like we have been pondering some of the same things for the new year. During my break I learned to spend more and more time away from the computer, and I really enjoyed getting to read so much! It made me realize just how much time I do spend on there. I'm getting myself a timer! (I bought a cheap one and it doesn't work, so I've got to get another one). :)

Barbara H. said...

I've seen Lit! mentioned a lot of places, and mentioned favorably. so I probably ought to give it a look. Wherever I have seen it discussed or quoted, I tend to think, "Yeah, I agree with that, or have already thought through that, or already do that..." so I haven't been quite as quick to get it when I have so many other books I want to get to. But it would probably be a good one.

I had a post on Narnian magic during the Narnia challenge where I wrestled through some of that aspect of things.

Anonymous said...

OK, OK, I must make Lit the first book I read (other than the Bible) in 2012! I, too, desperately want to change the way I read.

In 2010, I read well over 100 books. In 2011, I read less than 30. A lot of it has to do with health problems that make it difficult for me to concentrate. But I am woefully unhappy when I can't or don't read. I am a much more satisfied, fulfilled person when I am reading on a regular basis.

Thanks for the inspiration to be more self-disciplined, Carrie.

Sky said...

Harry Potter huh? ;oD I have read them and I greatly anticipate your reviews!
I am going to try and blog more often about what I am reading, as a self discipline and to get my mind out of mama-mode!
I am looking forward to this next year.

Carrie said...

Mary Bailey- I'm so with you there! When I am not reading, I'm generally antsy and unhappy. Must feast on words or else I almost feel like I'm starving to death. I totally get what you are saying!

@Amy and Annette - Good questions. I'll answer them in a separate blog post because I could stand to more closely examine where my free time is and how I spend it. Thanks for asking!

Alice@Supratentorial said...

Great post! I think I may have to add Lit! to the every growing TBR list.

I don't remember how old your kids are but a great resource for Bible Study with kids is Finding Jesus in might go well with your own Genesis studies. We went through it last year with a 4 yr old and 7 yr old. It was a little much for the 4 yr old but such a great resource I'm sure we'll do it again some day.

BerlinerinPoet said...

Great post, Carrie! I'm surprised with your three bookworms you can even read 86. I need to step up my game, I'm not that far ahead of you. ;-)

I feel like blogging is different from Facebook. (She smugly says since she's long ago canceled Facebook) I think it's because you have to put a lot more care and time into a long post than you do with the mini flashes of conversation in Facebook. I don't know though. I have seen it used well, so I'm by no means dogmatic. But I AM glad you won't be cutting back too much on blogging.

I am SO thrilled you will be reading The Harry Potter series. I'd love to hear your thoughts. I have vague sort of shadowy thoughts about them. I tend to like them (should I say that in public haha) but I'm always open to examining what I read.

I also really like the 100, minus your age rule. I do a 50 page rule, but only because that just means if I can't get into it by 50 pages. I close it, but revisit it in a year. If I did the 100, minus age rule, that might mean I would be able to tell that I don't necessarily have to revisit it.

Susanne said...

I definitely need to re-evaluate my reading priorities. Too many times I choose the novel over the Word. To my shame. I think this might be a year of taking a good hard look at where my spare time really goes but like you I HAVE to read.

Stephanie Kay said...

Is this going to be one of those books that you talk about repeatedly until we all finally break down and read it? ;) {smile}

Diary of an Autodidact said...

1. I cannot imagine having the time to read even 40 books a year. Two hours a day? If only! I aim to replace a TV episode with reading, which is more like a half an hour to an hour after I get the kids in bed. My goal had been to read at least one book a month, but I am averaging more like three, which makes me feel like an overachiever.

2. I think you ought to have Darren and Sara Jones write a guest post on the good and bad use of magic - they have really thought this through.

3. Facebook is useful for those of us who have friends and relatives scattered throughout the country (and the world for that matter), who do not blog. There is no way I could keep up via phone, but can through Facebook. I know it is not as in-depth as I would use for my few closest friends, but it is far better than talking once a year or less.

4. I would modify the 100-your age rule to take into account the length and type of book. Sir Walter Scott requires 50 pages regardless of the reader's age. Some light books are clearly worthless after 5% of their length - which is probably 10 pages.

5. Good for you on the classics. I feel I have less and less time to read obvious fluff these days, and want something that will stick with me.

6. Keep on blogging!

Stephanie said...

I love this post and need to come back and read it again. I find I am so distracted reading anymore that it is HARD to sit and read for an extended period of time, and especially if it's a thinkerly nonfiction! (Book club for January? Hello?) : )

I need to sever / disconnect / drastically cut back my ties with the computer as well and up my time in the Word. Accountability anyone? : )

A Faithful Journey said...

Love the honesty in this post! I found myself nodding my head in agreement many times! I, too, need more discipline in my life when it comes to spending time reading...especially reading HIS Word! I too will soon be the mother of 3 (still have to announce it on my blog! :) ) so I would really like to set some practices into! I also want to spend more time at the library with my children. We started the year off strong and ended it poorly!

All this rambling to say "thank you" for this post, your honesty, and most importantly, this blog!

Happy New Year!

oh...and now I MUST read LIT! :)

Carrie said...

@Stephanie's Mommy Brain - Yes. ;D

@Tim - Re: Magic. Well, I have to think it through for *myself.* That's sort of the point. Because whatever I think through and decide upon is how I'll approach every single book I read. *insert argument which is essentially preaching to the choir* I can't guest post on stuff I'm not sure about.

@Amy at Faithful Journey - WAAAAAAAAA HOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Congratulations!!!!!!!!!!!

wxroz said...

hooray for reading more classics! i can't wait to see more of your reviews. i also look forward to your thoughts on the HP series. i am on book 5 myself, and i am enjoying them so far. i still haven't read all of the narnia series, though. i always get stuck on the voyage of the dawn treader. for some reason i just don't like that story. but i feel that i can't skip it and go to the next one, so i guess i need to discipline myself and just get through it.

Kara said...

GREAT post!! I have Lit! sitting on my Kindle, I'm planning to read it *very* soon! I'm working on a "reading plan" for the new year too. I'm trying a new Bible reading plan, which I actually started last week, and I have the Harry Potter books on my list too. I actually read the first one waaayyy back when it was fairly new and my oldest daughter was a toddler, to see what all the controversy was about. We recently went ahead and watched the movies with our kids, so now my oldest daughter (13) and I plan to read them and discuss them. I'll look forward to your thoughts on them!

Laura@OutnumberedMom said...

Well, I'm considering using a gift card for Lit! this very moment. What a great post, Carrie.

I haven't read any Potter either, and am interested to see what you think. They're on my "long-term" list, but more clamors for my attention.

Of course, this English teacher says hurray to reading more classics! This was a fascinating post -- even reading the comments is interesting.

About technology -- have you read Hamlet's Blackberry? I'm reading it now. Thanks for the brain fodder today.

Anonymous said...

You can listen to a wonderful interview with the author of this book and with Dr. Rosalie deRosset, professor of communications at Moody Bible Institute on the December 14 edition of Chris Fabry Live.

Choose Hour 2

Karen G. said...

Lit! sounds like a wonderful book--your post is the first I've heard of it, but it sounds like something I'd love. I'm feeling the need to be more disciplined and purposeful in my reading, too. I've read books 1, 2, 4 and the last two chapters of book 7 from the Harry Potter series. You can glean from those weird numbers that I wasn't reading them for fun. :-)

Katrina said...

GREAT review, Carrie, and I am tracking right with you. Lit impacted me in similar ways. Just the other day, I was a bit irritated with myself because I was having a hard time just sitting still and reading. My mind was racing all over the place and I couldn't just settle and concentrate. And I do think that those "quick bits" have affected how I read and my ability to "go deep."

And I so hear you on trying to deal with "computer time" and how much it affects everything else I'm trying to do. Sigh...

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