For the past few years, I’ve shared the books I’ve read on Instagram. I save them in a highlight, occasionally offering commentary on the book or mentioning who it would most benefit. Often, I get comments on how much I read in response.
I remember a reading competition in elementary school (Did they combine reading with a competition? You know I was there.) that I won by reading over 100 books. It shocked people and I felt judged. Either it seemed they did not believe I had read the books or it was impossible that I could have read them or didn’t I simply have something better to do?
It’s entirely possible that the commenters meant nothing besides congratulations and a teeny bit of shock. But we pick up shame and wear it as an undergarment, hidden under other clothes, from a young age and that’s exactly what I did. I’ve always felt a teeny bit embarrassed at how much I read.
I do a good job shrugging it off now most of the time. I love to read. I read quickly. I choose to read over doing other things. This habit has been a great benefit for seminary which comes with a part-time job of reading.
Some Benefits of Reading
I only get one experience of the world. I’m a white American middle-class woman. I don’t know what it means to live as a member of the majority world. I’ll never be a man and I’ve never been in the cultural minority. But I can step outside of my own world through reading. I can hear the stories of others and understand their experiences and perspectives better. In fact, I do this on purpose.
One of my aims in choosing books is to read widely, to hear from people who do not look like me and might not share my experiences. Right now I’m leaning toward fiction authors that aren’t white and theology writers that aren’t white men. This is my current stance toward incorporating new work. I reread Harry Potter over my break between seminary quarters and Eugene Peterson and NT Wright have standing spots in my reading rotation.
One of the things that I refuse to say on Instagram when I share a book is that I don’t agree with everything the author says or believes. Of course, I don’t. I don’t agree with everything anyone says. I’m certain there are things on this blog that I no longer agree with fully. Not agreeing with every detail can’t stop me from reading the work and learning or I won’t grow. If I am going to learn to have grounded conversations with people who hold different perspectives than I do, I need to understand and fairly represent what they believe. If I’m going to recognize my own blind spots, I need to hear outside voices. Reading can help me comprehend different positions and notice my own lack.
I highly recommend watching this Ted Talk about the dangers of a single story.
“How” I Read
After some reflection, I realized that there is a rhythm to my reading. I always have a book that I work through slowly with my morning Bible reading; right now it’s Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership by Ruth Haley Barton. I’m reading tiny sections of Reading While Black by Esau McCaulley when my work at quiet time starts in the afternoons. Before bed, I’m alternating between Advent by Fleming Rutledge and The Habit of Being, which is a collection of Flannery O’Connor’s letters. I can read multiple non-fiction books and always am. I’m typically carrying something else to read in snippets during the day while the kids are playing with a neighbor down the street or I’m making dinner (some meals comes with longer cooking times). Fiction I can only read one at a time though; it’s too much to keep straight otherwise.
A Goal of My Reading
My hope is to have a good start on a top-notch library by the time I finish seminary. I’m already running out of bookcase room but too many books isn’t actually a problem. I want a library of wonderful books that I can read and reread, use for research and writing, cite on the blog and in sermons. I want to be formed by great writing and great thinkers. I also want to be able to share it with others. Most public libraries, especially where I live, do not have a wide assortment of solid theology. Whatever I am doing it’s always my goal to take others with me. That’s why I share my books online and it’s also why I want to have a good library.
What This Means for You
While I’m over here being who I am- reading voraciously and not feeling bad about it- maybe you don’t read anywhere near as much and you feel bad about it. Don’t! I do encourage you to read and be consistent about it, but in small doses. Commit to fifteen minutes a day. Read one chapter every day. Put down things you don’t like, especially if it’s fiction. Reading will stretch your mind and heart in ways that will work in tandem with your lived experience. Don’t deprive yourself.
You probably have a hobby or work that delights you and I’m encouraging you to lean into it. Share it with others. Be generous with what lights you up. Someone may only take a sip of what you’re savoring but it might change them.