Yesterday I shared with you about my early love of books. That love continued as I matured. My teenage years were filled with books – Steinbeck and Hemmingway two of my favorite authors. I have very vivid memories of venturing up to the bookstore in the mall with my friend Nicole. We were like kids in a candy shop, setting our sights on the paperback section of classics.
To this day, I feel an ache when I pass bookstores or walk the stacks of the local library. My job during college was in the campus library. When Rick brings home a new book, I am drawn to it like a moth to flame. And, though I have started using my Nook a little more, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to totally convert to the eBook format. Books have an aesthetic quality for me. One I just can’t give up.
But, one thing I learned during those years is that not all books are created equal. My mom, a book devourer in her own right, helped guide me through the process of choosing worthy books. When the V.C. Andrews books were all the rage in middle school, she said “no”. When Stephen King was flooding the market with best selling horror stories, she cautioned me to “wait”. Her reasons were varied – poor writing for the former, mature content in the latter. But, no matter what her reasons, her example taught me an important lesson: to evaluate my reading. To consider how I wanted to spend my time and what I wanted my mind to marinate in.
One thing I always appreciated about her approach was that she didn’t just make sweeping rules about my reading. Too often we tend toward rules. Instead, she taught me the fine art of discernment. Discernment is a tricky thing because, let’s face it, we don’t always nail it. Especially at age 16! Sometimes we make the wrong choice and some cruddy images or thoughts get through our filter and we’re stuck with them rattling around our brains. But she was willing to take that risk. She was committed to helping me understand WHY some books were better than others.
That discernment has carried with me today. On more than one occasion, I have taken a book back to the library unfinished. As well, I am slow to jump on a book bandwagon. I never ended up reading the Twilight books and was slow to pick up the Hunger Games. (Hint: The best-seller list is not always the most reliable way to choose your reading.) And, I am more than a little leary of the new book 50 Shades of Gray.
There are shelves and shelves of books out there. New books hit the presses daily. I do not have unlimited amounts of time to waste my reading on books that aren’t worthy – whether in content or morals or story. As well, you need to know that what we read shapes the way we think. I do not need to fill my mind with images or ideas that are going to hinder the way I live. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you’re not affected by what you read. Books do shape us – sometimes in very subtle ways that go unnoticed at first.
On the other hand, we can close ourselves off from good books because of a single scene or stray profanity. For instance, I have a friend who stopped reading The Help because of the chocolate pie scene. She felt like it was gross and unnecessary so she gave the book a “thumbs down.” In her haste to avoid a single scene, I feel like she missed the whole point of the book.
The Help was one of the best fiction books I’ve read in the last several years. Author Kathryn Stockett does a great job of bringing the characters, time and place to life. As well, she sheds light on a very profound, complicated issue in a unique way. In fact, when I was leaving the theater after watching the movie version, I found myself a little embarrassed to be a white woman. That’s a good thing for me to wrestle with. Reading about the Jim Crow laws in a history book and imagining them lived out in the characters of a book are two very different experiences. It caused me to reflect and consider which characters I identified most with. “Please Lord, keep making me more like Skeeter and less like Hilly or Elizabeth.” If that means I have to read a little bit about one maid’s misguided attempt at revenge, then so be it. In fact, I think that very scene gave the characters more texture and gave me a sense for how helpless those maids might have really felt in the face of such injustice.
But, discernment can be a very subjective thing. So, how much “realism” is too much? What makes one book worthy and another book gratuitous? And, so far, I haven’t even touched the realm of nonfiction. Don’t be fooled – nonfiction has its own pitfalls. I know many of my readers are Christians. I want to caution you: just because a book is written by a Christian doesn’t mean it’s worthy of your time.
I’ll share more tomorrow about HOW I make those tough choices.
Q4U: In the meantime, what are some of your favorite books and why?