Books I Keep Talking About

The banner of Andy Unedited

One of the blogs I follow is Andy Unedited. The “unedited” part has to do with his work through most of his career as an editor at a publishing house. He recognizes great writing, and knows how to make it better. So when he wrote a post recently titled Twelve Books I Keep Talking About, I paid attention. He confines his list to books he’s read in the last two years. It’s a great list. There’s one that would be on my list, four others I’ve read, and a few I might look into. But the hook for me was his question at the end of the post: What are the books you keep talking about? I said I might answer in a blog post (never pass up a blog idea!), so here’s my list!

The Crucifixion, by Fleming Rutledge is one on which we agree! It was the most profound theological book I’ve read in ten years, and greatly enriched my Lenten journey a year ago. Review

Write Better, by Andrew T. LePeau, the “Andy” of Andy Unedited. He focuses on the craft, art, and spirituality of writing and the book inspired me to be a better writer. Were it not for Fleming Rutledge’s The Crucifixion, this might have made my best of the year in 2019. It was a Christianity Today Book of the year. Review

Grant, by Ron Chernow. I think each book Chernow writes gets better, and this was magnificent in exploring both the inner man and outward accomplishments of this Union general and president. Grants Memoir is on my must read list after reading him Review

Goshen Road, by Bonnie Proudfoot. This is a first time novel published by a small university press that deserves much greater attention. The writing is exquisite and the story of two sisters in working class families in rural West Virginia was one I couldn’t stop thinking about. Review

Answering the Call, by Nathaniel R. Jones. Jones and I grew up in the same home town of Youngstown. A blog follower said I ought to write about him, and in researching his life, I learned of his memoir, an inspiring story of a persevering pursuit of civil rights from advocacy, to a legal career, an Assistant U.S. Attorney, general counsel of the NAACP, and a judge on the United States Court of Appeals Sixth Circuit. Review

Still Life, by Louise Penny. I’d heard from others how good the Chief Inspector Gamache series is and what a special place is the fictional village of Three Pines. The first book lived up to the praise, and from what I hear, it only gets better. Review

A Tree Grows In Brooklyn, by Betty Smith. Finally read this “coming of age” classic this year. It was one of the “books that went to war” in World War 2, reminding many soldiers of the homes and family they left behind. Review

The Cross and the Lynching Tree, by James Cone. Draws a profound connection between Christ’s crucifixion and the lynching of Blacks readily apparent in the Black community, but one whites may be oblivious to. Review

City on a Hill, Abram C. Van Engen. A tour de force historical study of the phrase “city on a hill” from Governor John Winthrop’s sermon in the 1630 down to the present appropriation of the phrase to articulate American exceptionalism. Review

The Great Alone, by Kristin Hannah. Like The Nightingale, this book stuck with me when I wasn’t reading it. It is kind of a more toxic fictional version of Tara Westover’s Educated set in the beauty of the wilds of Alaska. Review

Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom, by David W. Blight. Another magnificent biography of the escaped slave who became the greatest black orator, writer and activist of the nineteenth century. Review

Perfectly Human, Sarah C. Williams. An exquisitely written personal narrative of a couple facing a pre-natal diagnosis of fatal birth defects, their decision to carry their daughter to term, their process with family and friends, and the larger issues their own decision raised for them. Review

Well, Andy, there is a dozen to match yours, at least in number. As I put this list together, I realized that these really have been books I’ve talked about, and I’ve enjoyed the chance to do so once more, to give a shout-out for the books, and to remember the great pleasure each gave in a dozen unique ways. Thanks for the question, Andy. Hope you find something on this list, and between the two of us, we gave people 23 books to consider (one in common). Happy reading my friend!

Books and the United States Postal Service

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Image by F. Muhammad from Pixabay

I should begin with a couple disclaimers. First of all, I’m writing about a situation in the United States and I know there are those reading from other countries. I hope your situation is better, and if it is, you are welcome to gloat! Second, I do not want to get into the politics around funding of the postal service with regard to the upcoming election. I’ve made my own decisions in this regard and written to my elected officials. You don’t need to hear my thoughts in that regard.

Nor do you need an analysis from me of why the USPS faces the financial woes they are facing. Certainly, in recent years, and especially in the pandemic, first class mail has declined precipitously, a major revenue stream. Some have even suggested we all go out and buy a sheet of stamps to help the post office’s cash flow. But I don’t have the accounting background or time to delve into postal service financials–an issue that is complicated and debated. One of the challenges is that the USPS, since 1971, is supposed to be, by law, self-sustaining without taxpayer funding.

The health of the postal service affects not only our elections but many sectors of commerce in our country from the delivery of prescription drugs, many Amazon packages and as the last leg of delivery of many items to homes and businesses. The access to these services throughout the country is especially significant in many rural locations, not always served by other shippers.

The book world is crucially reliant on the USPS. One of the particular benefits the USPS offers is Media Mail, and a closely related service for libraries, Library Mail. These programs allow the shipping of books, sound recordings, printed music, and other educational media to the public, and between libraries and educational institutions at reduced rates. Have you used inter-library loan to get a book, available to you at no cost? Your library likely used Library Mail.  Begun in 1936, the Media Mail program recognized the importance of the flow of educational information and the free flow of ideas.

During the pandemic, when most bookstores were (or are) closed, Media Mail has allowed for the shipping of books by independent booksellers, chains, and even Amazon, at lower costs, playing an important part in sustaining jobs and income, and providing books to so many of us under stay-at-home orders, or voluntarily self-isolating because of risk.

In addition, Media Mail is used for book giveaways, advanced review copies to reviewers, book boxes which have become increasingly popular, and various bookswapping sites. In a BookRiot article one bookstore selling a $27 book indicated that it would cost $24 to ship the book via UPS, $14 via Fed Ex, and $3 via Media Mail. It may be necessary to raise these costs, but it would likely come at the expense of many of the programs mentioned here, at the expense of book sales, and maybe some booksellers. “Just get it at Amazon?”  That is an option, but realize that for many, you pay $119 annually, the equivalent of the shipping cost for roughly 40 books, and depending on shipping arrangements, it still may be the USPS delivering that book to your mailbox.

It’s clear there are problems with the business model of the USPS that I personally think best resolved after the elections, while ensuring the timely delivery of absentee ballots to voters and their boards of elections. For those of us who love books, bookstores, libraries and other aspects of the book trade, how these problems are resolved are important, particularly while we are under pandemic conditions. Media Mail and Library Media provisions historically were made to facilitate the flow of educational materials and ideas and have helped small booksellers with their businesses. Those who value these provisions should watch whatever measures are taken.

Book FOMO

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I figured it out. There is this weird phenomena for many of us who love books. We tend to acquire more books than we can possibly read in our lifetimes. There’s even a Japanese word for this, tsundoku. I’ve puzzled why we do that. Or to get more personal, why do I do that?

I think it comes down, at least in part for me, to fear of missing out (FOMO). I read a review of an interesting book. I learn of a book that addresses a question I’m interested in. I see a list of recommended books, or a footnote in a book I’m reading. My wife tells me about a book she’s heard about that is interesting. A book I’ve heard about turns up in a used book store, or at a low price on Amazon Kindle (usually $2.99 or less for me). I see a forthcoming book that looks interesting and request it for review.

I don’t want to miss out on a chance to read any of these great books. I rationalize this with the thought that I may get around to reading the book someday. For books I’ve identified for review, I usually do, since publishers don’t like to send out books to reviewers who don’t review their books. For others, I may end up pulling them out if they relate to a subject I want to read up on, or if they strike my fancy.

But that also means I literally have boxes of stored books acquired in years past, and it is increasingly unlikely that I will get to many of these unless the pandemic goes on for years (which none of us want!). Every one of those books was acquired for some reason of interest–I’d like to read about that, and want to have the book at hand. Alas, newer acquisitions pushed older ones aside into boxes, stored away in a closet.

As it happens, that closet is probably the best place to shelter in our home in the event of severe storms or tornado warnings we get a few times a year. We’ve agreed that those boxes of books must go, along with stacks of books I have read but don’t need to keep. It’s tough though–I can imagine doing the Marie Kondo thing and end up discovering that they all give me joy. I may do better if I don’t open the boxes and just haul them away.

The truth is, I will miss out. I can’t read all the books in my own house within my likely remaining years, let alone the new books that will come out in years ahead and all the wonderful books that have been published that I don’t have. The antidote to my FOMO, oddly enough, is coming to terms with my mortality. It means accepting that God may be all-knowing, but I never will be. One of the comforts of my faith in everlasting life will be the chance to keep learning in whatever form that might take.

Hopefully, this will make me wiser in the new books I acquire. I do find myself asking more often “will I really read that?” The pandemic has helped in limiting some of the sources of lots of cheap books like library book sales and used bookstores.

Where I’d like to get to, and haven’t yet, is to reach the point where I don’t look at those book stacks and feel, “I’ve got to read all those books!” (so now you know the shape of my OCD!). It may be that making some of the stacks disappear will help. Perhaps it is applying a principle of relationships with people to books: if you are thinking about any other book than the book you are with, you are not with any of your books. A spiritual lesson I’ve been learning is to be present in the present rather than somewhere else. When I fear missing out, I’m taking away from the enjoyment of the book I’m reading right now. Perhaps with the uncertainty of the present time, it is not a bad thing to live in “right now.” With the book I’m reading. In my comfortable chair. With a coffee at my side. In those moments, I’m not missing out at all.

Could That Backyard Shed Become Your Reading Retreat?

Library Shed

Library Shed, Source: iVillage

Many of us readers share a house with people we love. Love is nurtured in conversations, the sharing of household chores, and if we are parents with children, caring for those children. All important, and hard to do, and read at the same time.

Some of our homes are too small to get away and read, isolated from family life. Either one gets up early in the morning, or hides out in the bathroom. We dream of sitting rooms, dens, and “man caves.”

Another solution is gaining popularity. A number of people are looking at the humble backyard shed and turning it into a retreat. Women have created a “She Shed” movement captured on a number of episodes of the Today show. Here’s an early one on how “she sheds” have become the alternative to the man cave.

Bibliophiles have noticed. Gail A. Sisolak portrays some drop-dead gorgeous back yard sheds turned into libraries that includes the image featured above. One “he shed” in this blog post has over 12,000 volumes–in a shed! Others combine one’s library with comfort and beauty–light and good seating within, and a beautiful garden outside the shed door and windows.

I haven’t seen anything about sheds in northern climates or humid climates. We don’t tend to think about heating, cooling, and de-humidifying sheds, but for comfort and avoiding mustiness, library shed owners have to think about such things, unless it is just a seasonal retreat.

Some people are do-it-yourselfers. One of the bestselling books on building sheds is She Sheds: A Room of Your Own. There are sequels to this book, how to’s from companies like Black and Decker and more. There are a number of instructional videos and websites online.

Or you can go the store-bought route. There are rock bottom priced tiny sheds available at big box stores for $600. Most run between $2,000 and $8,000. You still want to see whether these are pre-assembled or whether “some assembly is required.”

Whichever route you go, you will need to think about climate control for both you and your books, something not included in most utility sheds. Then there are questions of shelving, carpeting, lighting and seating and other amenities. But you’ve probably been dreaming about what you’d do if you have such space.

Before you start your project there are a few sign offs. One is your family–it is the kind of expenditure everyone has to agree on, maybe with some discussion of how the family will share this retreat. The other is your local zoning and building permitting regulations, which differ from place to place.

With the pandemic, we are spending more time at home than usual, more time around each other. More space, particularly for a quiet hour of reading, may be a gift for family members who are tired of overhearing Zoom calls or need to get away from streamed videos. It’s a way to buy a bit more space for everyone and perhaps a bit more storage space for your books. Maybe this is the year you build your library shed.

Reading Quotes

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I post a number of reading quotes on my Facebook page. Some of them verge on turning books and reading into a religion, which I sense it is for some, or serves that place in the lives of some. The ones I like the best are more modest. They speak to my own sense of the role books and reading play in my life–one of the cultural goods that enrich and enlarge my perception of the world and that point me to the greater goodness, truth, and beauty beyond the books. Here are some of my favorites:

“You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.” – C.S. Lewis (substitute coffee in my case)

“In the case of good books, the point is not to see how many of them you can get through, but rather how many can get through to you.” – Mortimer J. Adler

“Man reading should be man intensely alive. The book should be a ball of light in one’s hand.” – Ezra Pound

“Wear the old coat and buy the new book.” – Austin Phelps (definitely me!)

“Reading brings us unknown friends” – Honoré de Balzac (Aslan, Gandalf, even Père Goriot)

“Make it a rule never to give a child a book you would not read yourself.” – George Bernard Shaw (a rule in our house)

“Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.” – Rainer Maria Rilke (yes, one of the goods of reading are conversations with other readers)

“Never put off till tomorrow the book you can read today.” – Holbrook Jackson (a sentiment of all us dedicated readers!)

“People can lose their lives in libraries. They ought to be warned.” – Saul Bellow (or bookstores…although I suspect Bellow may also be talking about the dangerous power of books to change the course of our lives)

“We read to know we are not alone.” C. S. Lewis (I could probably fill a page just with Lewis quotes!)

“The reading of all good books is like conversation with the finest (people) of the past centuries.” – Descartes (an idea many have suggested–sometimes they even talk to, or at least about each other)

“A classic is a book that has never finished saying what it has to say.” – Italo Calvino

And finally, to round out this baker’s dozen of quotes:

“Fill your house with stacks of books, in all the crannies and all the nooks.” – Dr. Seuss

This hardly exhausts the good things that may be said about books and reading. What is striking to me is that so many of these quotes come from the very people who bring us great books. Is it that great writers have filled their lives with the ideas of other great writers? Or is it that writers more than any know the worth of a book?

What are your favorite book quotes?

Reading During the Pandemic

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Image via Peakpx is licensed under CC0

The initial weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic absorbed much of the time and energy that I would give to reading. But it has been four months now, and, like many, I’ve settled into a “new normal” that has afforded many good opportunities around the world of books:

  • Reading a history of the Latina/o church in the Americas, Brown Church, and then doing an online interview with the author, Robert Chao Romero, a gentle and thoughtful scholar.
  • Discovering  the life of Nathaniel R. Jones, an African-American attorney and appellate court judge from Youngstown, and going on to his memoir that is opening my eyes to what my hometown was like for the African-American community and his courageous resistance.
  • Evenings reading Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and the Light, while listening to the piano concertos of Rachmaninoff.
  • A conversation with a college ministry work team on The Jesus Creed, reminding me both how clear Jesus was about what really matters–loving God and neighbor–and how challenging it is to really live that day.
  • Trying to figure out why the characters and plots of Kristin Hannah get into my head. It happened with The Nightingale. It happened again with The Great Alone.
  • Revisiting forty years of memories going back to the Jesus Movement as I read To Think Christianly, and sat in on a webinar with the author.
  • Revisiting the difficult memories of fifty years ago through Derk Backderf’s Kent State: Four Dead in Ohio. I grew up 35 miles from Kent, and the deaths of students, including a girl from my own town, stunned me as a high school student. I can never hear Ohio by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young without it catching me up.
  • Amid all of this a relative of my sister who follows the blog and Facebook page sent me a lovely book facemask. I wear it proudly. I’m not only Bob on Books but Bob Behind the Books!
  • I discovered Octavia Butler. Perhaps it was not the best time to read The Parable of the Sower, set in a dystopian America in the not-to-distant future, but it left me hungry to read more of her work.
  • I also discovered the world of Three Pines, and I have fourteen more Louise Penny’s (with another in September). The anticipation alone gladdens the heart.

I’ve been fortunate to have publishers who have kept me stocked up with books. All the news and fuss around the pandemic don’t add to my understanding of how we should live during this time. My Bible, my church (online), my family and friends, and my books help far more, and it is to these I want to give my time. I’ve concluded that the best thing I can do is to share the hope nurtured by my faith, and the goodness I find in books. Both will be around long after the pandemic is in the rear view mirror!

Authors I Wish Were Still Around

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John Steinbeck” by Sonya Noskowiak is licensed under CC BY 2.5

One of the realities of books is that (at least for the present), they must be written by a living person. Yesterday, as I wrote about the authors whose next books I would buy, I kept thinking of favorite authors who will never write another book. Here are some who came to mind:

Wallace Stegner. Whether writing about the American West, or about the passages of life, Stegner helps us to love what he loved, to think with him about life, with an economy of prose.

John Steinbeck. From Cannery Row to East of Eden, he left us with memorable characters capturing the struggle for existence, the joys of life, and the bonds and discords within families.

Elizabeth Peters. My wife and I delighted for years in her Amelia Peabody series, equal part Egyptology and rollicking adventure with Emerson, Ramses, Nefret, Sennia, and their friends.

Dorothy L. SayersHow I wish there were more Lord Peter Wimsey stories, especially with Harriet Vane! My favorite? Probably The Nine Tailors with Gaudy Night as a runner up.

Barbara Tuchman. Whether writing about 14th century France, or the onset of World War 1, or Joseph Stilwell, she brought history alive for the layperson with elegant prose and flowing narrative. Underneath it all, she portrayed the follies of war, brought together in her book The March of Folly.

William Manchester. He seemed uniquely able to write grandly about grand figures, whether John F. Kennedy or Winston Churchill. I personally wish he, rather than Paul Reid, had finished the final volume on Churchill. He captured the vainglory of Douglas MacArthur, and rise and fall of the Krupp dynasty.

Rachel Carson. She is most known for Silent Spring, her warning of the dangers of pesticides. Less known is her beautiful The Sea Around Us, on the wonders of the oceans. How I wish we had more science writing like this!

Ray Bradbury. He wrote great short stories, science fiction, the coming of age novel Dandelion Wine, and a dystopian classic, Fahrenheit 451. Haven’t seen any modern science fiction writer quite like him.

Henri Nouwen. Whether it was his early The Wounded Healer, his book on leadership, In the Name of Jesus, or his reflections on Rembrandt’s painting in The Return of the Prodigal, Nouwen both opened your eyes to the pitfalls that lurk in our hearts and the healing intimacy of relationship with God.

John R. W. Stott. From his early Basic Christianity, which I gave to many friends who were exploring Christianity to classic The Cross of Christ, to his valedictory The Radical Disciple, Stott’s writing and preaching combined clarity of writing, theological orthodoxy, and a commitment to connecting Christian truth to the issues and concerns of any thoughtful person.

There are many others I could add but at the expense of brevity. Though I cannot read any new booksby these authors (unless they are previously unpublished works), they each are so good that their books are worth reading again. In the case of some on this list, I haven’t read all they’ve written, and so there are books by these people that will be new to me. Some I even have in one of my “to read” piles. There are others worth revisiting. How about you?

I’d Buy Their Next Books

One of the things about inveterate readers is that they have favorite authors. When the news comes that they have a new book coming out, we want to know when. We might even pre-order the book. Authors win that status with us in different ways. Some are great at writing page turners. Others simply write so beautifully that we revel in their prose. Some make sense of our world through their writing. Others make us think, or even re-examine our lives. So, here are some of those authors whose newest book I would buy.

Anthony Doerr. All the Light We Cannot See is probably the best work of fiction I have read in the past ten years. There are books that instill a sense of wonder as one reads. This was one of them. It’s been six years since this came out, so I hope there is a new one coming soon.

Kristen Hannah. I’ve remarked recently on how much I’ve enjoyed both The Nightingale and The Great Alone. Both had characters who take up residence in your head and plots that raise profound questions about the nature of evil and the possibility of goodness.

Louise Penny. I’ve discovered in the last year what many mystery lovers have long known–it’s a good thing Three Pines doesn’t really exist, or we’d all move there–just for the chance to get to know Chief Inspector Gamache. One of the great “thinking” detectives. Word is that the next in the series comes out this fall.

Ron Chernow. He’s given us some of the best biographies of the last few decades–Titan, The Warburgs, Alexander Hamilton, Washington, and Grant. The next will likely be a tome, but I will buy it for a great and long read.

Robert Caro. I dearly hope he (and I) live to see the final volume of his biography of Lyndon Johnson. I was in my early teens when he was president, and Caro draws out the complexity of this man who was both better and worse than I remember. His little volume, Working, was a fascinating glimpse into how he researches, sleuths for the truth, and his process of writing.

David McCullough. I think I’ve read everything he has written. His book Pioneers was fascinating, simply because he told the story of the people from the east who settle my home state of Ohio. I only wish he would have told more of the story of the people who were here before them. Maybe his next book will do that, if he has any more in him. My favorite was his biography of Harry S. Truman, who had the misfortune of coming between Roosevelt and Eisenhower.

Wendell Berry. He defines what it means to be a “curmudgeon” but provokes me in all he writes to think what it means to hold “membership” in a community, and to think of the land from which we derive our livelihood. Berry continually provokes me to think of what it means to love and care for a place and the desperate need for more such people in our country.

Fleming Rutledge. The Crucifixion was one of the most profound theological works I read in the past ten years, reading it over the course of Lent. Her emphasis both on the substitutionary death of Christ and the victory over evil that occurred in Christ’s death took my thinking about these things in fresh directions.

Matthew Levering. This, perhaps is a name you’ve not heard. He is a Catholic theologian. The last book I read was Dying and the Virtues, exploring the virtues that help us both die and live well. I’ve read three of his books, all of which brought me to fresh insight about theological truths I grew up with. I had the privilege to interview him, much of which was spent in wonder as I listened to him do what seems the theologian’s calling–to think and then teach great ideas about God, and our relation to God.

Marilyn Chandler McEntyre. I have only read her book on Caring for Truth in a Culture of Lies. This is a woman who cares for words in a culture where there is so many of them and so little insight or truth. I want to read more of what she has written, and will keep an eye out for her newest work.

There are many I’ve not included. I’d love to know the ones you would list and why. I have to think that between good authors and their readers, there is kind of an unspoken contract where authors reward the effort of their readers with everything from wonder to insight, where they faithfully pass along the vision of reality that opens not only their world, but ours.

What Gives a Book Staying Power?

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Masterpieces” by Randy Robertson licensed under CC BY 2.0

What makes a book a classic? Why do some best sellers quickly peak and die, while other books, which may or may not have been bestsellers in their time endure? We’ve been talking about this at the Bob on Books Facebook page, and some of what’s here draws on the thoughts of the avid readers on that page.

Of course, a good plot and memorable characters generally are a prerequisite. Need we go further than Ebenezer Scrooge and the appearances of the three ghosts? Another example would be the characters in Uncle Tom’s Cabin–Tom, Eliza, and Evangeline St. Claire to name a few, and memorable scenes, like Eliza’s flight to freedom across the ice on the Ohio River, pursued by fugitive slave hunters. Plots don’t always have to be fast-moving or tight. Think of the massive works of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. Often, it seems that the development of a character, and that person’s interior monologue can sprawl across pages and yet engross us, because we can see how someone would really think like that.

That gets to another reason these books endure. They come to be recognized as books in which we both lose and find ourselves. We may become engrossed by a character, who in turn invites us to look at our own lives in fresh ways. It may be that a setting and characters remind people of what they value most in life. I think of the popularity of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, a story of a family, of coming of age, and Brooklyn. Thousands of soldiers in World War 2 read the book, with memories of their families, their loves, and their homes. And many continue to see themselves in the adolescent children of the story, Mary Frances Nolan, and her brother “Neely.”

Sometimes, it seems to be a timeless issue. I’m not sure Fahrenheit 451 is distinguished in terms of plot and characters, but in its exploration of book burning and a society of censorship and why this must be resisted. The Jungle, though written in the early 1900’s setting of meat-packing plants still resonates as we think of how workers are often exploited in similar settings around the world (including meat-packing plants that are hot spots of infection in the current pandemic).

Timelessness seems to be one of the critical elements. Classic books are those people connect with generation after generation. Most of us are far from the gentrified setting of 18th century England. Yet generations have found themselves enthralled with the descriptions of elegant drawing rooms and manners, budding romances, and the roles of men and women, the limits on women, and how they contended with these in the works of Jane Austen. The dynamics of relations between men and women will always be with us, no matter how different our circumstances.

Classics are hardly infallible. They may draw us in but we may also define our realities in very different terms. We may come to these books with different sensibilities regarding race, gender, or social class. We may object to the way these are framed by the author, but they help us recognize from where we have come. They also make us question how future generations will evaluate our social structures.

One of the curious things is how classic works stay in print. It would seem to come down to people hearing about the book year after year from others who have loved it until it becomes one of those books you need to read. I do have to admit that I’m curious why some books make it to “classic” status, like Ulysses by James Joyce that maybe five people in the world have any clue to what it means. Maybe it is that people are impressed to see it on one’s shelf, which is one reason some acquire “classics.”

I suspect different classic works connect with people through the generations for different reasons. It suggests to me that there are variety of ways in which a work may be great, not just one. It also encourages me that the ways a work may be great are not exhausted. Some of the books that have deeply touched us may speak to future generations. Unfortunately, most of us will probably never know, any more than those who first read Jane Austen. But we will know that we read a good book.

Reading Withdrawal

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This is a cropped image of a painting by Pierre Auguste Cot (1837-1883) titled “Ophelia/Pause for Thought

Reading withdrawal. Is that a thing? If you talk to my reading friends you will discover it is.

What are the signs of reading withdrawal?

  • Irritability and crabbiness
  • Tiredness from staying up late to compensate for lost reading time
  • Extra or long trips to the bathroom which may be the frustrated reader’s last sanctuary.
  • Some people get depressed. Reading for them is a break from depressing realities. Take that away and what’s left?
  • Some have less energy to socialize. Reading is one place where introverts recharge to meet the world. Extroverts, who are in the majority, just don’t get it.
  • Others feel torn between the people and obligations calling them away from their books and the books that are calling to them.

Sometimes the withdrawal is self-inflicted. We really want to read that new novel, and yet we wile away our reading hours on our smartphone, or binge watching that great new series. Put the phone in another room. Step away from the screen.

Then there are the times the people we care about want our attention during our “reading time.” Maybe it is because the day at work was exasperating and they work things out by talking. Or the kids at school were really mean. Or the one we love wants to go for a walk in the rain or a drive in the country. Just because. If our priorities are right and our love of reading is in the healthy range, we give a longing look at our book, a promise to be back, and thank who or whatever we worship that we have someone to love and who loves us.

At the same time, those who live with and love readers, will probably do well to not fight their urge to retreat into a book sometime during the day or evening. It’s likely that when they put down their book, they’ll be an easier person to live with. They sleep better and are not cranky. And the bathroom is more available.

“Withdrawal” can mean simply missing any healthy habit, from reading to working out. Mostly, it suggests the negotiation that goes on within every household of allowing each to pursue their distinctive interests, balanced with our shared affections and obligations. I’m not a trained counselor, but you might consider seeing one if your reading habit is resulting in a deteriorating relationship, or if it interferes with your work or other obligations, or results in neglecting good self-care.

Most of the time, the best thing is probably to realize that the readers we love need their time to read. If we are that reader, our challenge is to figure out how to get in reading time while showing those who love us we have time for them.