Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Book Talk - How I Choose What I Read

There is a twin bookcase on the other side of the little TV and bookcases in almost every room!

I read a lot of books.  So how do I choose what to read and what to... not read?   Over the years I've developed a pretty good discernment of what a book will be like but even then a few really bad books have slipped through.  You cannot judge a book by its' cover or who writes a forward!  Trust me.  Been there.

But overall my reading filter has been a good one.  I have developed a mental list of authors I like very much.  Whether fiction or nonfiction, I know if I purchase that book or bring it home from the library I will most likely enjoy the book.

I also have a handful of trusted bookish friends that I trust implicitly.  We have the same book filters.  I also peruse the Amazon reviews of the book.  Sometimes I read one because of of the reviews.  There are times I know a book will be good because of who hates it.  ;)

So what do I do when I'm thinking of reading a book outside my usual safety zone?  Well, I divide them into two categories... different or defiling.

A book by someone who is different than I am stretches my thinking and can often help me look at a subject from a different perspective.  For instance, Madeleine L'Engle is that kind of writer.  Our theology is not exactly the same but we agree on the essentials of the faith. 

I follow a few blogs where the writers tend to be on the edge of New Age because they write on important subjects for which we overlap. There are many nonfiction writers especially that I read because their subject matter is important to me but they are not people of faith.  I'm not there for spiritual advice.

Having said that... there are authors who I absolutely will not read because we differ so much on the essentials of the faith.  Which is pretty much what we find in the Apostles Creed.  I don't care if someone does church different than me as I've attended a few different denominations.  I shared with a long time blog friend recently that I could debate myself on the timing of the Lord's return!

Since I am reading for spiritual advice, there are basics like salvation through Jesus, the Trinity, the return of Christ (we may differ on the timing), etc., that are so essential that if a writer has left that street and deliberately turned down an alley, I cannot trust anything they write.

A book I find defiling is one that makes me feel downright filthy when reading it.  Like I need a shower in my brain.  Sometimes I realize a book is defiling from the first chapter and other times it may take awhile to realize where the author is leading me but even if I want to know how it ends, if it is really unsettling then I set it aside.

I don't read smutty books or books filled with dreadful language.  Now, there may be a curse word here or there because the main character of the book meet up with someone that has salty language.  But it is brief and in character.  If I remember correctly, such a thing happened in The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry.

These days it is easy to find defiling in modern novels but the most upset I've ever been over a book was being hit in the face with it in a nonfiction book.  That one being Julie and Julia.  I shut the book after the first few chapters and took it immediately back to the library.  The writer was (for me personally) absolutely vile and if her language was any indication of her character, then I didn't want to get to know her any further.  I certainly didn't need her words to get stuck in my brain.

I only watched the movie after a couple friends I trust said I'd like it, for I love Julia Child.  I found it interesting that toward the end of the movie, when she finds out Julia didn't care for the her blog, she wondered if it was because she used the F-Bomb so much. I don't know, Julia was very world wise and not a person of faith.  However, she was of a generation when it was considered appalling when women swore like the proverbial sailors. 

Defiling is different with so many people.  When I was in my early 20s, I read Harlequin novels.  At that time there was nothing really smutty about them.  But I came to feel the Lord didn't want me to read that kind of romance novel so I stopped completely. 

I didn't read much fiction in my 20s and 30s, most of my reading was nonfiction.  So I came to be thankful He led me away from romance novels to those fiction books which are a lot more edifying and have blessed me through the years.

Which brings me to another important (perhaps the most important Truth).  We must exercise Grace when others have different boundaries than our own.

I will write next (book reviews may come before it) about how I chose books for my kids to read... and not.  But I will say here that there is perhaps no other area where bookish Christians become adamant about what people should and should not do.

For instance, we did not do the whole Harry Potter thing.  You would think if any Christians read the book, this Fantasy and Science Fiction loving family would read the series.  But I just felt this nudge in the spirit that it was not for us.  Not until Christopher was older.

Now, I have a lot of good friends, whom I respect greatly, that read and loved Harry PotterWhat I found through the years is that God knows each of us so personally, He sometimes leads us away from something He says yes to for others.  Oh, not truly defiling stuff but those gray areas we find ourselves.  There is no 2nd Hezekiah chapter and verse that says "Thou shall not read Harry Potter but you can read The Lord of the Rings".

Know your own boundaries and stick with them even if people scoff at you (I could tell you stories) but at the same time... show grace.  Only God knows our hearts and that inner most part of our minds that stores information throughout our life.  If it goes against His Book, I'd find something else to read.


Anonymous said...

Hi Brenda,
Great post (as usual)! I totally agree with you about the Julie and Julia book. I so wanted to read it and, like you, shut it very quickly and returned it to the library. Because of that, I have been wary of watching the movie, but now, maybe I will give it a go.
I always enjoy reading your book reviews and recommendations. I seem to enjoy the same books as you do. I help out in our church library and have had the librarian order some books because of your reviews. I've never been disappointed! And honestly, we have been VERY disappointed with some books that have been recommended by our local Christian book store. That's kind of disheartening. So, thanks Brenda, for all those reviews you do.

Terra said...

That is so true "God knows each of us personally." I benefit from reading blog and other book reviews and share my favorites too, on my blog, on Amazon, etc. My favorite author now is Anthony Trollope. He won't appeal to everyone, no author does. My two books were published by a Christian publisher and even those won't speak to everyone. That is ok.

Sandi said...

Well said!

rebecca said...

I share most of your "filters", I think. I would be interested in your response to my recent post on the first Elizabeth Goudge book I read. (I THINK you might be one of many who enjoy her books.)

Interestingly, I have been sorting my books (again). We have SO many. My husband just finished painting another bookcase which I've moved up to our bedroom (already have 3 up there)! Finally have more shelves for some stacks that have been piling up - literally. While sorting, I brought a couple down to reread. A Frederick Buechner, "Secrets in the Dark", and Eugene Peterson, "Under the Predictable Plant: An Exploration in Vocational Holiness". said...

Thank you for your outlook on this subject.

Anonymous said...

Well said and certainly some things for me to ponder on. You often write what I think but just can't find the right words for. Thank you.


Deanna Rabe - Creekside Cottage Blog said...

I'm a day late to the conversation but I agree with you. We have done Lord of the Rings and Narnia but not Harry Potter(Though my oldest daughter read the first one as an adult), for much the same reason as you. We have dear friends who don't do any LOTR or Narnia. We walk in GRACE with each other!

Great post!