Good Reading Raises the Level of All Thinkers

Looking for Truth in all the right places

Although the Bible remains the number 1 bestseller in books each year, buying a Bible, or any other book for that matter, is not the same as reading it.

It’s the books we actually read and understand and internalize that shape who we are and forecast who we will become.

Universal truth applies to all people in every context and throughout all generations. But where do people even begin to look for truth?

In books.

The Bible admits through words written by King Solomon nearly 3 thousand years ago:  Of making many books there is no end.

There are books that feed hungry souls. There are books that fuel unhealthy appetites. There are books that are as disposable as the daily newspaper.

Today, there are books that sell. There are books that last. A book that does both becomes a classic.

Indispensable among books in any language is the Bible. The Bible used to form the cornerstone of education. Educated persons shared in common a literary heritage with tracks of written words crisscrossing the Bible throughout centuries of recorded history.

A translation of the Bible in any language is a gift of inestimable value. Ask Abraham Lincoln.

Or I can tell you how some Russian people responded when a group I was with in 1993 handed out Bibles to those who had sat in darkness for 70 years. They cried.

“A River Never Rises above Its Source”

Charles Scribner II, editor of the renowned New York publishing house, is attributed with those words. He maintained literary standards for reading and writing.

Words and the meanings of words are essential for reading, thinking and understanding. Necessary nutrients for healthy minds and bodies, words can make us whole. Or tear us apart.

Lacking common ground for communication in both history and literature, is it any wonder that America appears more fractured than at any point in history? Left behind are those who lack the ability to read and appreciate timeless and timely literature.

Reading to understand what we read requires thinking to process information, make connections and use of the mind God gave us.

Readers in the Food Court

This on the steps to Admin Building at UT

Spurred by appetite, personal preference and advertising, Readers want what they want now.

“Reading today is largely a consumer activity––people devour books, magazines, pamphlets, and newspapers for information that will fuel their ambition or careers or competence. The faster the better, the more the better. It is either analytical, figuring things out; or frivolous killing of time.” Eugene Peterson, Eat This Book.

Selah. Reading should nourish our souls. Reading can affirm our identity as human beings of infinite worth. Reading reminds us we are not alone.

And it helps people relate and communicate when they can share a working knowledge of the some of the same literary building blocks.

Reading quality material elevates all the ships in the harbor. This is especially true when people can read and talk about what they read. Instead of being marooned on islands of personal preference or shot at by those who disagree, Readers learn to think “for the benefit of society.”

All truth is God’s truth.

Frank Gabelein served as headmaster for 42 years at a Christian college prep school. He believed that “because all truth is God’s truth, it should make no difference whether it is natural or revealed truth, as long as learning relates to life.”

Gabelein believed that the doctrine of common grace asserts that God gives his gifts among all kinds of men, believers as well as unbelievers.

“There is an excitement about the humanities that can be very moving . . . the humane visions of greatness in literature and art and music can bring us into encounters with genius . . . Genius comes through common grace. As such, it is a miracle of divine sovereignty. In giving genius to Plato, or Shakespeare; a Leonardo or a Monet; Mozart or Tchaikovsky, or turn again to literature, a Jane Austen or a Hemingway––in doing this, God acted sovereignly [sic] and the results of his action are to be accepted thankfully.”

Can Readers be saved?

People are hungry for truth. Not your truth. Not my truth.

The truth.

People confuse truth with personal experience.

Written in stone on the Administration Building, the University of Texas, Austin––”Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.”

You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free. Jesus said that.

Go read a good book. There’s truth to be found, tasted and treasured for those who seek the truth.

And eat your vegetables too.

The words of the wise are like goads, and the words of scholars are like well-driven nails, given by one Shepherd. And further, my son, be admonished by these. Ecclesiastes 12:11–12

The Gift of Reading

Revived, I come alive reading about books I have read

A little notebook gifted to me imposed brief entries, a few sentences to describe the books I read at the time.

Today, I ran across that neglected diary of sorts, finding just enough to make me want to read some of these books again.

“Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.” Francis Bacon

Gift from the Sea © 1955, Anne Morrow Lindbergh––A perennial favorite, I try to read this book once a year. I have given away so many copies that have then become a favorite of my recipients. Contains treasured insights for various stages of life.

Max Perkins, Editor of Genius © 1978, A. Scot Berg––I loved this book! Inside the world of authors and publishers, Berg gives a revealing look at the relationship between editor and writers. A biography of Max Perkins, Berg also sheds light on the lives of Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Thomas Wolfe. Not one of these writers would have achieved what they did without Max Perkins. The editor makes a tremendous contribution to the finished book, as well as navigating writers through some of the hazards of the writing life. Reading this book led me to read Look Homeward Angel.

The Brothers Karamazov (pub. 1880), Feodor Dostoevsky––Whew! I read Crime and Punishment last summer and knew what to expect. Complicated and luminous, Russian authors offer depth to characters and insight into why characters make the choices they do. (Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina is also in my Top 10, for sure). Beautiful descriptions, memorable characters, and scenes that opened for me subterranean grief, which led to healing. An indispensable classic.

The Age of Innocence (pub. 1920) Edith Wharton––Finished reading after our return from Paris, the last scene takes place at The Invalides, which I could picture as well as relate to since I came home sick and could only lie in bed and read.

They had crossed the Place des Invalides, and were walking down one of the thoroughfares flanking the building. It was a quiet quarter, after all, in spite of its splendour [sic] and its history; and the fact gave one an idea of the riches Paris had to draw on, since such scenes as this were left to the few and the indifferent.

This book helped me begin to understand why so much literary and artistic snobbery centers around Paris and New York City. Both cities serve as an historic badge of honor for those privileged to live there.

Soul Survivor © 2003, Philip Yancey––One of my professors thinks Yancey is “God’s best gift to Christianity just now.” (circa 2007) The people Yancey profiled represent a wide range of believers. Wonderful writing and storytelling as Yancey grapples with doubts that assault even the most faith-filled believers.

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek © 1974, Annie Dillard––Powers of observation par excellence! Dillard describes the extravagance of nature, deriving spiritual and practical lessons for life. Read when solitude can take you where she goes.

To Kill a Mockingbird © 1960 , Harper Lee––Having read this book many times and collected several copies, I reread parts of this novel again and again. Always struck by the pace of life that let people notice details, like rocks at the bottom of a clear stream instead of the rush of a waterfall. Lee’s exquisite use of language to describe the characters conveys so much emotion. Amazed to learn she was Truman Capote’s best friend. Creative people stimulate creativity in others.

Confessions of a Beginning Theologian © 1998, Elouise Renich Fraser––Read this book my first year in seminary (Spring, 2005) and again a year later, finding myself able to identify with this writer even more. Makes me feel as if I have made some progress as a theologian, one who has found her own voice and wants to participate in the dialogue rather than parrot what other people think.

Look Homeward, Angel pub. 1929, Thomas Wolfe [not to be confused with Tom Wolfe]––I read this because of Max Perkins, Editor of Genius. I agree, Thomas Wolfe was a genius, perhaps even the genius Scot Berg had in mind. Brilliant, educated, analytical, Wolfe embeds this lengthy book with innumerable literary and biblical references. Thomas Wolfe’s protagonist Eugene Gant lived a tragic life, parallel to Wolfe’s, making the story autobiographical fiction. The phrase, “O Lost!” recurs throughout. When I finished reading, I wanted to counter his hopelessness with “O Found!”––somehow extending God’s message of hope to the world.

Kite Runner © 2003, Khaled Hosseini––Riveting story of the struggle to reconcile relationships distorted by secrets and lies. Set in Kabul Afghanistan, before and after the war, the main characters immigrate to San Francisco (which, incidentally is where the author has lived since 1981). This book portrays a human saga with raw evil in places.

Goldwyn, A Biography © 1989, A. Scot Berg–– Berg won the Pulitzer Prize for his biography of Lindbergh. (I read Lindbergh before I started this list. A stellar non-fiction masterpiece.) Berg also wrote Kate Remembered, Hepburn’s biography; as always, he does justice to his subject. I read anything Scot Berg has written. This book gives as much Hollywood history as well as personal life of Samuel Goldwyn. Offers a panorama of celebrity and the movies I grew up admiring.

Same Kind of Different As Me © 2006, Ron Hall and Denver Moore (with Lynn Vincent)––From page 104 “I knew after listening to his story that he’d carved out a life for himself. Though meager and pathetic from the perspective of the more fortunate, it was a life he knew how to live.” Story of life-changing relationships when people who are different connect as human beings.

Eat This Book–A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading © 2005 , Eugene Peterson––An important book written by a trusted guide who explains that the form of the Bible is formative. How we read the Bible, Peterson says, is a matter of great consequence. We should read to respond. We should see ourselves in the stories. We should not treat the Bible as a thing. Breathing in its atmosphere in everyday life, God changes us.

Deadline © 1994, Randy Alcorn––Driven by an agenda and preachy, the backstory about journalism is what interested me enough to read this novel. Questions raised: Why don’t Christians train to [infiltrate] liberal institutions, like the media, instead of [only] focusing on sending missionaries to Africa [this, meaning any and all countries where missionaries go]? Why do Christians write books and magazines that only “talk to each other”?

The No, 1 Ladies Detective Agency Series © 1998, Alexander McCall Smith––Delightful! Light reading that’s life-giving. Endearing characters and universal truths shine through ordinary everyday relational situations. Set in Botswana, the place itself serves as a time machine for once upon a time in 1950’s America. (As of 2017, 18 books in this series).

The Innocent Man––Murder and Injustice in a Small Town © 2006, John Grisham––Master storyteller Grisham pulls together the puzzle pieces for this non-fiction account of two men wrongly convicted of murder.

Of Faith and Fiction © 1997, W. Dale Brown––Sane voices among those who are Christian cry out for literary excellence that reflects God’s greatness. These writers resist the labels, the pigeon holes and pitfalls of commercial publishing. Too much of market-driven, copy-cat clones of previous commercial “successes” gets pandered to readers under the banner of Christian, leaving literature to languish.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 © 2011, J.K. Rowling––The much anticipated conclusion to the Harry Potter series once again succeeds in pulling readers into another world. More here to commend than to critique, both the storytelling and writing keep readers turning pages. This book provides a satisfying wrap-up, tying together many loose ends of a 7 book story that has captivated readers worldwide.

The End of the Affair © 1951 , Graham Green––Terrific writing and storytelling, Grahmam Greene advances the Christian faith (in this case, Catholic) through the resistance of unbelievers, showing how sin magnifies grace. Greene’s approach to apologetics serves as a model for fiction writers who seek to penetrate secular thinking with the gospel.

Brideshead Revisited © 1945, Evelyn Waugh––A friend recommended this book, and though it was hard to get into, the author’s writing style added layers of beauty to the saga of family collapse centered around an English countryside estate. The writer shows the underside of privilege, social hierarchy and wealth.

Read to nourish your own soul

What I appreciate about discovering this list I made in 2006–2007 is how diverse the titles and genre and authors and dates of publication or copyright.

As I have said countless times, A book is only as good as it is timely.

My little reading journal records this quote on the last page:

Reading a book is like re-writing it for yourself . . . you bring to a novel, anything you read, all your experience of the world. You bring your history and you read it in your own terms.” ––Angela Carter

Let me know if anything on this list intrigues you.

Be a reader. Your heart and soul will thank you.