Not long ago, a friend told me this,
“I have put a number of books in a certain compartment in my mind that’s labeled, “not really interested in reading.” Now, I am wondering what else (and who else) I might be missing out on!!”
That same friend was inspired to read Don Quixote after hearing me praise the book. As a reader, I have my own compartment too that’s labeled similarly. My friend labeled hers “not really interested in reading”, and that’s her personality comprised. She is calm, reflective, and has the gift of a very pleasant disposition. My label is not that pondered, but more angled and, ahem, dramatic, “I will never ever read these books” it’s how I call that compartment.
I have found a new favorite pursue as a reader, debunking my own biases, finding favorite books in the titles I had passionately dejected for so long… or JUST finding titles and genres I had simply dismissed because I never considered them to be right up my alley.
Reading what friends I admire recommend is always very profitable. The Makioka Sisters and City of Tranquil Light were two titles this year I read recommended by friends whose recommendations are priceless.
I’m honored to have been that same person for others. It’s very rewarding to know many now love Don Quixote because at my age I was able to love it first. At my older age, I came to love Benito Pérez Galdós. Two winters ago I embarked into reading Fortunata and Jacinta, and I was very excited to know my dear friend Heather did the same. She loved it as much as I did. Later, when Linda had to pick a novel in translation for her Back to the Classics challenge, I recommended Doña Perfecta. We both enjoyed it, but it felt too little. I then recommended her to take the plunge to the 900 pages and read Fortunata and Jacinta. She is a Trollope’s fan, and even though I have not read any Trollope yet, I knew she’d love Galdós. She started the novel some months ago, but the first 80 pages or so are intense. There’s a lot of names thrown to us in those pages. As all longish novels, one needs to advance 50 pages a bit in the dark. After that, names and situations take shape, and sooner than you think, you are completely immersed in that universe. I’ve read several reviews of the book in Spanish and English, and it’s common to all of us that we can’t stop reading.
Once upon a time, I thought I’d never read Fortunata and Jacinta (too long, too boring). I never wanted to read Don Quixote now that I had no teacher pushing it down my throat. I never wanted to read The Iliad, or The Odyssey, and I read both, one with the help of a book club, the second one by my own. Now, those books are some of my all time favorites.
The picture shows two books I would have never read, not because of my own bias, but because I had never heard about them. The Black Swan I knew through my friend’s blog, and Wild Animals I Have Known, I knew through the Ambleside Online curriculum.
Some books genres are not that appealing to me. Fantasy (don’t throw rocks at me) is not my favorite. Yes, I have read and loved The Hobbit, but I have not continued with Lord of the Rings. We have read and enjoyed 3 of the Narnia books (The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Prince Caspian, The Voyage of the Dawn Trader), and that’s about it. I can divide my friends between the Narnia, Tolkien, and Rolling lovers, and everyone else. I don’t have objections to reading Harry Potter, I’ve just not read them. (I read the first book eons ago, when the first movie came up). I’ve watched a few of the Potter movies, but I always find something else in my reading journey and don’t muster the time for this series. What fascinates me it’s how loved these Harry Potter books are. A few weeks ago, at book club, one of the participants said to be re-re-re reading the Harry Potter books. A day or two after, I read in a blog with summer book recommendations, a comment by someone saying she was also re-re-re-re reading the Harry Potter series, and exhorting the blog’s author to read the books, read a book about Harry Potter, and read it again with those clues to look for (meaning all the clues and threads not obvious at first, and all the underlining development of big concepts such as loyalty, friendship, fear, courage…).
It reminds me to one episode of Parts Unknown, when chef Anthony Bourdain was in Korea, at an Internet food show (the type that proliferate in that country), where a young man was cooking military style. Military is compulsory in Korea, and this programs take Koreans to memory lane, to their “times when we were serving”. The main dish was an awkward mix of wiener sausages, spam, kimchi (of course), lots of spices, and ramen noodles. Something “so wrong” that it was unbelievable, Bourdain said, that it could be and taste so right. The comment from the Korean show host was, “Anthony, the way you eat it makes it so delicious”. More than the dish, we relished in the way the chef eat it, with so much passion and gusto. That’s what I’m trying to convey, I’m in love with the love others show for certain books. (Will I be absorbed in that Harry Potter warm and fuzzy black hole others seem to head for constantly?)
Every time I talk to my friend Kelly, I feel a longing for the Narnia books. She loves them, and finds quotes and connections from these books (and all C.S. Lewis’ fiction) everywhere. She also loves Homer and now she’s reading Virgil. I’m going to join, my way (through a Spanish audio of the Aeneid). I rarely miss opportunities to read along with friends. Heather and I are currently reading Our Friend Manso together, and most likely I’ll also be reading The Awakening of Miss Prim with Kim. I have heard that title in many places lately, and I did not know it was written by a Spaniard.
Kelly also brings to mind the Dorothy Sayer’s mysteries. I’ve been wanting to read another one to add to my astounding record of two books by her that I’ve read! And this brings me to Elizabeth Gouge, another author I’ve read in just one book (and I fear not her best), add Angela Thirkell to the list (I’ve only read her The Headmistress, but I owe one more title). Next come the two book authors list, with Halliburton, and Ray Bradbury (one and a half to be more exact). Pause it. Ray Bradbury is best known for his Fahrenheit 451. I read it when I was young, but now there’s the books that should be re-read and revisited at a more mature age. And I also saw some readers who pick an author for the christmas break, or the summer holidays. I want Bradbury to be my author. I want to read his Dandelion Wine, finish his Martian Chronicles, and re-read his Farenheit.
Early in the year, at the time of the Back to the Classic challenge (and there’s many more challenges out there for any reader and taste), I indulge in reading some titles others have read or want to read. As a consequence, there’s some months where we discover forgotten classics, or when some classics gain a lot of popularity in different categories among the participants.
Then there’s club Jane Austen. I’ve read two of her books only, but every time her fans talk about her books, and discuss the characters, and quote from her, I feel a longing to inhabit the Austen universe too. It’s at this point when I stop and think that it’s not about the books so much, or about the books only. I’m after the longing and love for books and what they do to you. It’s about sharing reads, and about finding your own personal trajectory.
What all these observations of other readers share, it’s all the teaching and the connections they all gather on the big issues of life from their reads. It goes beyond being entertained, getting lost in a book just because, or being able to say or appear as a well read person.
At this part of the blog post, I remember that I always forget poetry. I think of my friend Sherry, and how she has time to nurture poetry. I always receive so much from the generous muses, that I don’t understand why I drop the ball this often. And then there’s the reading phases when I have so much I could read and I want to read, that I stop reading books and I move my attention to some documentaries, movies, or episodes.
After this mental walk through books, I start to declutter and to bring myself back to earth from the dreams of going to every place and reading every book that’s meaningful to others. It’s not about books, it’s not about others, it’s about what happens when we read. It’s about this that my friend Judy says,
To me the Bible is the most exciting book in the world. What other book can we return to the same passage again and again and see something we had previously missed? May God always keep my eyes and ears freshly attuned to His messages!
To grow as a christian means to read the Scriptures. The preacher at our congregation said his dream will be to teach the book of Acts for the rest of his life. There’s no time he reads it that he doesn’t find much more in it he did not the previous time.
And that’s what other books (and blog articles) do to me, they assist me and inform my reading of the Scriptures, they are other sources of reflecting on the big issues of life. Some prefer to listen to radio programs, others watch some documentaries, TV shows, etc. Some don’t do any of that. And that’s why at times I have no regrets when I abandon some titles, or when I stop reading anything other than the Bible. There’s moments of decluttering, not just my home, but our homeschool, our commitments, and my reading life. It’s all about having freshly attuned eyes and ears to His messages, as Judy says, about being excited and moved by the teachings in the Scriptures, about being able to see and read His Word with fresh eyes but it’s also gaining in maturity.
Our preacher told us too this past class we had on Acts, “read this verse as if you heard it for the first time”. That’s what I wrestle with at times, my Bible reading looses the sharp focus of other times, it gets blurry, I gloss through it. That’s why I’m thankful for Bible studies such as the one we have had for almost three months on the book of Acts, so that we can be better prepared to teach it to the students.
The ideas conveyed in our different readings (or what we listen to, or watch), plus the experience of doing so before others, with others, and after others, bring context and perspective, and afford me the much needed motivation to stay engaged and active as a christian who reads and studies the Scriptures.