Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Why I Read Such Great Books

A good friend suggested this title for a blog post, so here goes. He's interested in how I read, when I read, and why people are freaked out by how quickly I read. So here goes.

First of all, here's a photo of my current "pile." My family would tell you I've got some kind of book pile in process somewhere in the house at any given moment, although it migrates periodically. This is typically the number of books I'm engaging and considering as a set, in some fashion or another. I'll work from right to left, just for fun. First, there's the laptop. That's how I share books with others. Behind it on the bottom is J.K. Rowling's new novel The Casual Vacancy. I'm leading a discussion of this book in December at our local indie bookstore, Nightbird Books. Leading a book group keeps me reading at least one novel per month.

On top of Rowling are the two books that will form the backbone of a study group I'm leading next year, 2013, of Augustine's The City of God. We're reading that classic over the course of the whole year, and I'm reading Augustine's City of God: A Reader's Guide as a companion text also. Right now I'm reviewing both to create a structure for our joint study in 2013.

On top of these is a small volume, On the Cosmic Mystery of Jesus Christ: Selected Writings from St. Maximus the Confessor. This is a devotional resource I think will be fruitful for some of my preaching during the Advent and Christmas season. Plus Maximus is in the top tier of my favorite "church father's."

The Second Stack of Books

Second stack over, on the bottom are three new graphic novels I'm reading, including The Arctic Marauder, a work of "Icepunk," and Huizinga's Gloriana, a graphic novel that explores the glory in everyday life. Also appropriate for Advent and Christmas.

On top of these are Erik Peterson's Theological Tractates (Cultural Memory in the Present) and David Foster Wallace's post-humousBoth Flesh and Not: Essays, both of which I'm reading purely out of personal interest, the first because I've been on a political theology jag, the second because I simply adore David Foster Wallace essays.

Also in this stack is my to-do list, and a book with the title Platform: How To Get Noticed in a Noisy World by Michael Hyatt, definitely the most practical book in the stacks (it's featured in my sidebar of recommended books). This blog post has been influenced by insights from that book.

The Third Stack of Books

Finally, on the far left are two commentaries on Luke, both of which I'm trying to read this week prior to the beginning of the year of Luke. One is the Brazos Theological Commentary on Scripture volume on Luke by Jeffrey. The second is Prophetic Jesus, Prophetic Church: The Challenge of Luke-Acts to Contemporary Christians
 by Luke Timothy Johnson. Also in this stack is a book that will initiate my foray into phenomenology, Jean-Luc Marion's Being Given: Toward a Phenomenology of Givenness (Cultural Memory in the Present). Marion has written more recently on Augustine and phenomenology, so that philosophical school will come crashing into City of God when I begin that study next year.

Open to mark the page on top of this stack is a wonderful little book Polarization and the Healthier Church: Applying Bowen Family Systems Theory to Conflict and Change in Society and Congregational Life. It's worth its weight in gold.

How and where do I read?

The first answer is everywhere and always, although I am reading quite a bit less often than you might think. Most days are filled with the daily work of a pastor and father. If I read during the day, it is fits and starts, perhaps a few pages in the morning or afternoon at the office, though rarely. I might read some if I go to the sauna or have a bit of down time waiting somewhere. I carry books everywhere I go, lots of them, which helps me slowly make my way through the pages.

But the majority of my reading is done at night, say from about 10:30 until midnight, and in this space of time I can read quite a lot. I think I average 2-3 books per week. This week I might read a bit more because I'm trying to read the two commentaries that will set the stage for much of my preaching on Luke this next church calendar year.

Also, I don't always read all of every book. Many books don't warrant a front-to-back read. For example, one chapter in the Polarization book was on stuff familiar to me from other reads, and I skipped it altogether. Some chapters are worth skimming, some chapters worth browsing. On the other hand, a book like Marion's I might read only ten pages an hour. It really depends.

I consider reading to be my main monastic vow. I am committed to a life of reading. I see it bear fruit in my life all over the place, in preaching, teaching, daily life decisions, and more.

To the left of all the books is a Copper Mountain coffee cup that, to a considerable degree, fuels the entire reading adventure. Oh, one other reason I have time to read: I don't watch television.

1 comment:

  1. Now I understand. We are polar opposites. I watch 2 to 3 hours of TV every night (mostly cable news), and my eye-sight is failing. I haven't read a book in, well, 10 years.

    However... my name-saint, Catherine, was illiterate. Whether we read a lot -- or nothing -- after all, books are written by men (and women -- I wrote one) -- what is important is knowledge of the Truth. (Pilate's question)

    St Catherine of Sienna simply listened very carefully to homilies, and looked at stained glass windows a lot. She is now called a Doctor of the Church.