In the first two months of isolation, I think I managed to read one book.
Anyone who knows me knows that this behavior change was very out of character for me. I’m always reading something, often more than one at a time. I mean, there are the sorts of books one reads to relax before bedtime, but there are also the sorts of books one reads to learn something new, or the sorts of books one reads for a book club, and so on.
Since 2012, when I got my first e-reader, I’ve tried to limit the number of physical books that I acquired. I was in my first year of seminary at the time, and I knew that I’d be boxing up all my belongings each summer to move to wherever I did my summer internships. My dorm didn’t have an elevator (although it does have a dumbwaiter!) and books get pretty heavy pretty quickly, as every book-lover knows all too well.
I didn’t take much with me when I first left California for the east coast after I graduated college. I chose two non-fiction books that I’d bought in high school and that had affirmed my desire to study history. I thought I might read them again, since I was no longer a student with assigned reading. (I did not read them again…although The Confederate in the Attic and Lies My Teacher Told Me remain on my shelves today, like old friends.) Obviously I had to pack my very dog-eared The Lord of the Rings trilogy as well as Terry Pratchett’s Small Gods.
Between three years of seminary, the campus’ annual used book sale, and my late pastor’s decision to downsize his own collection before moving offices during a church remodeling project, I acquired quite a few books, despite my best efforts.
Today, my personal library has been divided into two parts: the books I keep at home (mostly fiction, some miscellaneous history, and a few graphic novels) and the books that live in the office. One professor in seminary taught us “the theology of the well-placed book,” the belief that the presence of certain titles can spark conversation. If someone walks into a pastor’s office and sees a book on their shelf about adoption, or PTSD, or LGBTQIA+ issues, or explaining death to children, then they know that their pastor is willing to talk about those things (and, theoretically, informed on the subject–although I can’t say that I’ve yet read *every* book in my office). It’s a much easier way to start a conversation on a difficult or uncomfortable subject if you can comment on a book title, rather than jump in cold. I have a fairly diverse collection for this reason.
And yet, in the first two months of isolation, I read maybe one book. I was too overwhelmed by all the plans that needed to be made, the various options that needed to be researched, the new skills I had to learn, the new world I was suddenly living in. In those two months, I didn’t have any human contact at all. I left the house once to mail a letter. It was just the cat and me (and just between us, I have to admit that Gingersnap is a terrible conversationalist). I was attending seemingly endless webinars and presbytery meetings, but everyone was coming from the same place (Presbyterian ministry, mostly), facing the same problem (moving church online).
Recent headlines have made me think more about the diversity of voices that I hear. Throughout my life, I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to form friendships with people from many different religions, backgrounds, cultures, and perspectives, but since I may not get to see any of them again for a long while yet, I turned to books instead.
Books aren’t often the solution to real-world problems, but they can be a great starting point for conversations and dialogues. There is a world outside this house, even if I haven’t seen it in a while. There is a world outside the Church. There is even, weirdly enough, a world outside the internet. So I’ve been committing myself to setting time aside to read every week, and I’ve finally been making some progress with the collection of books on my kindle that I’ve been meaning to read for a while. Rachel Held Evans, Traudl Junge, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Megan Phelps-Roper, Justin Lee, Jenny Lawson, and Malala Yousafzai are some of the non-fiction authors I’ve read this month, and they’ve certainly given me a lot of new perspectives.
What have you read recently? I’d love to share recommendations.