I collect books. I graze through them like I’m at an all-you-can-eat buffet. I sample this tidbit and that. Eventually, I get enough to eat or find the right morsel to consume until it is finished.
It makes me an eclectic sort. But there are days, even weeks, when I must discipline myself to become immersed in extraordinary writing. It is there where the soul can be fed and nourished.
I came across a quote from the great Charles Bridges, a well-respected pastor in the Church of England whose Exposition of Psalm 119 (published in 1827) is a masterpiece. A couple years later he wrote a book directed at people in the ministry. I found a selection that is particularly applicable to everyone who reads, especially in our modern era of content consumption without digestion.
Ardent minds wish, and seem almost to expect, to gain all at once. There is here, as in religion, “a zeal not according to knowledge.”— There is too great haste in decision, and too little time for weighing, for storing, or for wisely working out the treasure. Hence arises that most injurious habit of skimming over books, rather than perusing them. The mind has only hovered upon the surface, and gained but a confused remembrance of passing matter, and an acquaintance with first principles far too imperfect for practical utility. The ore of knowledge is purchased in the lump, but never separated, or applied to important objects.
Some again need discretion in the direction of their study. They study books more than themselves. They lose themselves in the multiplicity of books; and find to their cost, that in reading as well as “making books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh.” Bishop Wilkins observes, “There is as much art and benefit in the right choice of such books, with which we should be most familiar, as there is in the election of other friends or acquaintances, with whom we may most profitably converse.” No man can read everything; nor would our real store be increased by the capacity to do so. The digestive powers would be overloaded for want of time to act, and uncontrolled confusion would reign within. It is far more easy to furnish our library than our understanding.
May you be inspired to think about what you are reading and why you are reading it. If our recent crisis has helped you slow down, don’t forget those lessons and apply them to your next great book experience.
That’s great food for thought, Steve. You’ve given us something to chew on.
I’m addressing Pride and Prejudice in a deeper way. Thanks for these comments.
I love books, too. My dream some day is to own a library filled with the most important volumes of literature. However, in this day when there is a flood of information coming from all directions, discernment is the order of the day.
To just read without reflection, for me…a waste of time. I read to not only enjoy but to learn.
Thank you for keeping this on the radar!!!
I don’t know if it’s a common experience, but as things get kinda really bad with the cancers and all, I can’t get lost in a story…first it was cinema, and now books.
It’s distressing, and for those of you who have a terminal loved one or friend, it might be something for which to watch, because it makes it very hard indeed to keep up morale, or, indeed, to see a point in one’s remaining days, when the lens of ther experience and perspective is lost.
I didn’t see it coming,
the cancer-planted seed,
and it’s all too numbing;
I’ve forgotten how to read.
I can’t stay with the story,
whatever grace it’s got;
reading’s lost its glory,
and I have lost the plot.
Maybe the ability
was taken by the pain,
but I ask in all humility,
“God, bring it back again!
I need escape from all my known
in other lives, not my own!”
Steve, I appreciate the exhortation to be intentional both about what I read and how I read it. I confess, some books I read because I have to, and other books I read because I get to. Those are the books that speak the most to me. Even as a fiction reader, I’ve found beautiful truths and deep encouragement when I take the time to ponder the words I’m consuming.
I recently read a book that introduced me to the phrase “Festina Lente.” It was the motto of Aldus Manutius, an esteemed scholar, educator, and publisher in the late 15th and early 16th centuries. Manutius used an image of a dolphin wrapped around an anchor as a symbol of his motto. “Festina Lente” means “Make haste slowly.”
Steve, I take it that’s what you’re advising us. To be intentional in our reading. To make progress not to win a race, but to edify our minds and spirits.
I would add the same discretion should be paid to our writing. We often hear how we should churn out books faster to make more money, but I would argue the opposite. We should take the time to write prose that is worthy to be woven into the fabric of our readers’ lives.
This is very good advice. But like many things, it also depends on your reason for reading in the first place.
If I just need an escape from a bad day or something to take my mind off the problems of the world so that I can go to sleep, I turn to a quick and fluffy sweet romance. Those generally don’t require a lot of mental capacity to enjoy,
However, if I’m ready nonfiction, it’s usually to gain some information on a subject I’m interested in or learn how to do something, which I’m invested in. I’ve also found that reading for a book club helps me concentrate and focus on a book a little deeper than just for my own enjoyment. For example, my sister (across the country) and I have begun to read theology books “together.” Knowing that I will need to discuss the chapter next week helps me to focus my mental energy on really understanding and engaging with the content.
“Books are the carriers of civilization. Without books, history is silent, literature dumb, science crippled, thought and speculation a… Books are the carriers of civilization.” Barbara Tuchman
I’m meditating on your words, “No man can read everything; nor would our real store be increased by the capacity to do so. The digestive powers would be overloaded for want of time to act, and uncontrolled confusion would reign within. It is far more easy to furnish our library than our understanding.”
Even with more time available to read during this pandemic, I find myself looking at my stack of unread books as a chore needing to be accomplished, one book finished so I can move on to the next.
Thank you for this reminder to pay attention to how I read.
I have amassed a collection of 19th century (and earlier) science books. They are a delight to read, but must be read quite differently than current scientific literature. Rather than skimming to find the bottom line conclusion, one cannot avoid the necessity of reading paragraphs and pages of carefully written prose (often with untranslated Latin or Greek inserts, since of course, all educated people can read Latin, right?) in order to find the gems of tentative knowledge buried there. What I found surprising was how much these writers (still mostly amateurs who did science as a hobby. See John Fowles The French Lieutenant’s Woman) got right, and how much wisdom and careful thinking they applied to their work. Which, I have found, is not always so much the case in the modern age.
Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D.
Steve, I have gotten on a Patti Callahan track recently, having finished her “Becoming Mrs. Lewis” during the pandemic. I love how she constructs the novel and have learned a lot from her.