The Year in Reading So Far

I love to read. I used to read a lot more fiction than I do today and I’m trying to fix that. Sometimes I read because it immediately helps me with my job. But always I read because it helps with my psyche. Sure, I read to know I’m not alone (C.S. Lewis), but I also read to know I’m not insane. Other people live on this little planet and thrive and find the whole endeavor exhausting, so that gives me hope. And plus, reading is just fun. But it wasn’t always.

When I was in elementary and middle school, I devoured the Redwall series (my favorite being the Bellmaker), the Animorph series (they all kind of blurred together for me), and Zoobooks.  In high school, I let my conversion to Christianity root out my love for fiction (and accident that did not need to happen) and I steered toward theology books more and more as I felt called to the pastorate. I’m sure I grew in Christ because of it, but my imagination stagnated as my mind grew fat with delicious theology.

I hope I’ve balanced out in terms of what I read, even though this year it’s been all theology. I read two excellent books on miscarriage and infant mortality that were great helps to me. I read a phenomenal book on pastoral counseling that has sharpened and equipped me for that branch of soul care that my work calls for. But fiction isn’t that far off on my reading schedule (and yes, I have a reading schedule). The remaining Harry Potter books that I’ve not read (starting from the tail end of book 5) will soon become mine. And I finally want to dedicate some time to Marilyn Robinson’s Gilead and the poetry of John Donne and Gerard Manley Hopkins (outside of the famous ones that everybody knows).

Each year, I try and become a better reader in terms of volume of books read, quality of books read, and comprehension of books read. In 2014, I read 63 books (10,936 pages). In 2015, I read 61 books (10,951 pages). 25 days into 2016, I’ve read 6 books (1,701 pages). I’ll try and break the 11,000 page mark this year. We’ll see what happens. Life is more than books.

Why am I doing this? It’s not because it’s easy for me. I’m busier now than I’ve ever been and life will probably get crazier. I read at night and when I get a spare minute. I’m a slow reader and am easily distracted so I have to really focus. It’s not because I want everyone’s admiration. I haven’t shared those numbers above since I started this quest and, frankly, there are folks whose ability to read lots and to read well blow mine out of the jungle.

I’m doing this because sometimes you have to make a game out of a good thing to get yourself to enjoy it. Like a parent feeding a baby with an “airplane” spoon full of Gerber’s, I have to distract myself from the fact that I don’t always want to read by challenging myself to read. How many can I read in a month? Can I read two a week? How diversely can I read? Can I read someone I don’t agree with and learn from it?

I’m also doing this because inspiration is overrated and discipline is vital. I rarely feel like marching out to my subfreezing garage to put on the gloves and do 30 minutes on the punching bag. But five minutes into it, I’m in the groove and I forget how warm my bed is and how terrible the act of getting there really is. Likewise, I rarely feel like reading. Netflix is way easier. My phone can charm me for hours if I let it. But if I actually schedule it into my day, I get what I don’t realize I need: the pleasure of reading. At least, that’s what it’s like so far in 2016.

  • What’s on your reading agenda for this year?
  • What are you reading now?
  • How do you handle busy life with reading books?
  • What genre do you love to read the most? Is it the one you usually end up reading the most?
  • Who’s your favorite author?

 

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Those Maddening Interruptions

The days are just packed. Yes, folks can wear busyness as a badge of honor and that’s regrettable and foolish. But sometimes, the days can just get to you. There’s always another “one more thing” that comes along.

Our sump pump died today. The reasons why are silly and the story is tedious, but it threw my whole day off. I had a list of tasks that I needed to get done at the office and some things that absolutely had to be done at the office and my day started with me bailing dirty water out of the sump basin with an old tupperware container.

I was finally able to get to church by mid-morning and blow through a few hours of work before going back home to meet the plumber (an excellent and knowledgeable master tradesman). I bought a new sump pump, a new check valve, and some PVC pipe at Lowe’s and ran back home. But then, the plumber had to drive back to his shop to get some tools he didn’t have for the job. That’s fine. It happens.

He leaves and I’m working from home again, furiously trying to return phone calls and reschedule missed meetings and fire off e-mails. Then he comes back to work on it and life keeps up its frantic barrage. Time after time, little interruptions pop up beneath my chin. Some of them were welcome and wonderful. Some of them were aggravating. Dozens of those little (and big) needs broke through the lines of my well-ordered schedule.

But that’s okay. I mean, I don’t feel okay about it yet, but at least I know it’s okay. And that will help me feel okay about it sometime soon, I’m sure.

During the onslaught of the urgent today, I caught myself muttering, “Life is full of interruptions.” Then a C.S. Lewis quote came to mind: “What one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life, the life God is sending one day by day.” So sure, I could look back on today and lament the fact that so many things today got in the way of my job or my life or my plans. But if God is sovereign, then there are no such thing as interruptions, right? Life is for me as God gives it. And if he gives to me what look like interruptions?

That’s life. And life is ultimately good.

 

 

 

Cultivate a Little Wonder

G.K. Chesterton (a wonderful balloon of a man) once said, “The world will never starve for want of wonders; but only for want of wonder.” This world is stuffed full of wonders. Right now, I’m re-watching Planet Earth, that excellent BBC documentary about God’s green earth. It’s not just David Attenborough’s beautiful narration that makes this series wonderful. It’s the sense of wonder that it instills in me.

Yes, it is full of wonders. That’s obvious. The largest living organism in the world (a sequoia named General Sherman) stuns me even as I sit on the couch covered in blankets. The fledgling flight of mandarin ducklings makes me giggle. The loss of a snow goose gosling to feed starving arctic fox kits fills me with cringing shock and somber acceptance all at once. One dies so another can live and God feeds them all.

But this world of nature does more than show me splendors. It creates a space of fullness within me. It fuels worship, I think. It makes me realize how small I am in this blue speck of dust that slingshots through a vacuum. And that makes me smile.

Watch nature shows. Look at birds. Listen to Bach. Climb a tree. Do a math problem (if you enjoy math). Have a hug. However you get at it, cultivate wonder. And be thankful.

Horse-Feed Propoganda

I haven’t been into breakfast for a while now. I think I stopped eating it in college. Over the years, I’ve been rebuked and scolded for this in varying degrees of shock and incredulous outrage, but I haven’t felt the need to change. I just don’t wake up hungry. Breakfast, as a meal, hasn’t made sense to me in years. I just ate dinner last night, so why should I need to eat again first thing in the morning? I’m usually still stuffed from last night. And if I’m not, a fried egg on toast can solve that. No more, but often less than that does the trick when necessary.

That might be strange, I know. We’re taught three square meals a day, but that schedule hasn’t worked for my appetites since I left home for college and started timing my own meals. A few years ago, I found a kindred spirit in the writings of Robert Farrar Capon. He and I would’ve probably disagreed on many a theological flavor, but when he writes about food, it’s deliciously accurate. His quasi-spiritual cookbook, The Marriage Supper of the Lamb, articulated my thoughts on eating schedules and habits eerily well. And when he touches on breakfast, I rejoice to find my thoughts in another man’s words.

“If it were not for the propaganda of the horse-feed barons, most of us would probably be more than content with fruit and coffee” (Marriage Supper, p.146). Yes and amen. And it seems that his intuition wasn’t too far off. New research suggests that breakfast isn’t the vital and crucial building block to a life of health and happiness that Kellogg told us it would be. Perhaps breakfast really is just time to be left alone with one’s thoughts (with coffee and crust).

Exercise, of course. Eat breakfast or don’t, if you’re not a growing child or a highly active person. If you do, thank your Creator. But don’t die on that hill. And either way, let’s all keep our voices down before we’ve had our coffee.