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!

Trying to Read in a Crisis

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Image by FotoRieth from Pixabay

When the thought was raised of “physical distancing,” that sounded like heaven for a reader. And maybe it has been for some.

Not so far for me, and it may be you see less reviews from me. Typically, I’ll end up reading about 120 pages a day most days. This past week, if I can read 30, I’m doing good.

Some of it is work-related. I work in a collegiate ministry where we are making a rapid shift from face-to-face to digital. I happen to lead one of the digital areas of our ministry, and lots of time has been spent in Zoom calls figuring out how to do that. I just finished a nationwide call with university faculty trying to figure out how to convert their courses from face-to-face to online. We were using the some of the same software they will be using–and learning from each other in the process.

Some of it is just getting our household in order. We had the chance to move up a bathroom remodel. Now I wonder if a week later it would have even gotten done. In recent weeks we had been stocking up at the grocery–before the long lines. We had a sense this was coming, but there has been some extra time just getting our ducks in a row.

But a good part has just been distraction. I find myself checking the news reports more than is good for me and commenting with others online. Apart from finding out what the latest mandates are from our state, I don’t need to do too much more. I know it is going to keep getting worse for a while. I know I have to stay home and stay clean and not touch my face. It’s like it was in 9/11, except this won’t be done for awhile. The news coverage can draw you in, and agitate your thoughts and depress your heart. And it can distract from enjoying a good read.

Probably the best thing is to check in with my nightly news once a day, and stay away from news coverage the rest of the time. Sometimes I leave the phone in a different room so I’m less tempted to check it. Someone mentioned getting out for a walk. Haven’t done much of that recently, and I find that always clears my head. I sleep better and focus better. Replace screen time with walk time!

And maybe I just need to accept that my page count will drop for awhile. Maybe as things settle in that will change. I suspect in all sorts of way, this is a time where we need to be gentle with ourselves as well as with each other. It might even be a way where to get liberated from some compulsions. Some people waiting for me to review a book may have to wait longer. Right now, in the big scheme of things that doesn’t seem important.

These days, I find myself giving thanks that I’ve been preserved through another night, and at night through another day. I’m thankful to take a breath of air outside my door and scent the coming spring, which gives me hope. I give thanks for meals enjoyed at home. I give thanks for the quiet around me as I write. And when I can, I give thanks for the minutes I can spend with a book and a cup of coffee. The present crisis reminds me that all these things are gifts, gifts with which I may have become far too familiar.

Bibliophiles in an Age of Social Distancing

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Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com. [Comment: Advice is that masks should only be used by those who suspect they are infected, not the general population]

The rise and rapid spread of Covid-19 (coronavirus) has brought a new phrase into common usage–“social distancing.” This is the practice of literally keeping your distance from other people. It means avoiding large crowds or close contact with people, especially anyone manifesting symptoms of being ill. If one has been exposed to someone with the illness, it can mean self-quarantines, usually of 14 days, and longer, of course if you contract the illness. In some parts of the world (e.g. China, S. Korea, Italy), “lockdowns” have occurred enforcing social distancing on everyone. This is possible in any municipality, something most of us have never seen but probably ought prepare for. One piece of advice has been to stock up not only on essentials and non-perishables, but also on entertainment, including books.

I suspect for most bibliophiles, this is not a problem with our burgeoning TBR piles, although we are glad for the excuse to stock up (even though this is one “essential” we already have enough of). We might even whittle that pile down.

For most of us, “social distancing” is not a problem either. We have been using books for social distancing (particularly if we’re introverts) for most of our lives. Having our nose in a book usually is tantamount to hanging a “do not disturb” sign around your neck, except for the oblivious few who ask, “what are you reading.” Even then, all you have to do is hold up the cover or spine and show them (making an impromptu bioshield as well!).

I don’t want to make a self-quarantine or a lockdown sound like a “snow day.” But staying healthy includes emotional health, which is probably not enhanced by listening to constant news coverage about the virus. This can even prevent you from sleeping well or getting out and getting fresh air and exercise in the open air. If your state health department is on the ball, their daily bulletins are probably all you need (and we all probably can recite the basic guidelines in our sleep). You can take the rest of that time spent and instead of feeding the 24/7 news cycle to do all the other things I mentioned, plus work from home–and read!

This can be a time to find friends online, whether on Facebook or via video calls to talk about books we like. Pull up your computer, and a glass of wine, or other favorite beverage and chat with friends about books you like.

It may also be a time to explore new books you want to read. Look up your favorite review sites (hopefully including Bob on Books!), and make your list to reserve at the library, or order from your favorite indie (which may be struggling during this time). Put that “want list” together.

Some of us like film adaptations of books, especially those we have read. Perhaps you can make a plan to read or re-read the book, then watch the film and see how it measures up. Netflix subscriptions make this easy.

Reading can be a good way to practice both self-care and care for others during this time. We readers have long known that you don’t have to travel on a plane or car to travel the world (as well as other imagined worlds). Nor does physical isolation require social isolation. As long as we are in good health, we can interact with others in various online media, and turn our love of books into a shared love.

Stay safe out there, friends.

Remembering the Books That Have Made Me

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Southworth & Hawes, Ralph Waldo Emerson. Public Domain via Wikimedia

I came across a quote attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson recently that rang partly true. He is reputed to have said, “I cannot remember the books I’ve read any more than the meals I have eaten; even so they have made me.”

I think of this ringing partly true in the sense that I read quite a few books, even in a given year, and part of the reason I began to write reviews on Goodreads, and this blog, is that otherwise, I do forget some of the books that I read. It also seems only partly true, because some of the books were not memorable. I don’t think they became a part of me. After all, not all the food I eat becomes part of me, or makes me!

At the same time, there are a number of books that I’ve read that I do remember. William Manchester’s biography  of Churchill helped me understand the extraordinary greatness and courage of this man. The Lord of the Rings captured my imagination with the idea of ordinary people caught up in a great adventure. Francis Schaeffer was the first Christian writer to demonstrate that Christian thought had any relevance to the wider culture. H. Richard Niebuhr shaped my thinking about how we might engage that culture. Wendell Berry helped me think about technology and the land and community and what it means to have a sense of place and to love that place. The writings of Martin Luther King, Jr. helped me understand the urgency of the civil rights movement, particularly his message, “Why We Can’t Wait.” John R.W. Stott showed me the power of careful study that brings forth the message of scripture. Science writers like Lewis Thomas, Brian Greene, and Stephen J. Gould have instilled wonder as I’ve considered the world around me. All these have shaped and made me, at least my mental furniture.

Still, this quote leaves me wondering. Memory is a funny thing. There are memories not at conscious recall that arise–in a dream, with a smell, or a sight, or a random comment. Sometimes the contribution of some books to my mental life may be no more than a piece of a thought. Sometimes, books simply remind me of what I’ve already understood, like a recipe I’ve enjoyed before and enjoy again. Sometimes a fictional character will stand out in a singular way, and at other times remind me of those I’ve known.

Speaking of Emerson, it strikes me that I’ve read little of him or the other American transcendentalist tradition. From what I know, I probably would not be in entire sympathy. But Emerson has helped shape the American mind, even among those who do not remember reading him. Perhaps it is time to read some of him, perhaps to be made, or to see what I make of him.

Reading for Human Flourishing

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Young Man Reading By Candelight, by Matthias Stom — Holland, Public Domain

Last week, I reviewed a new book, Mathematics for Human Flourishing by Dr. Francis Su. Yesterday afternoon, I had the chance to facilitate a conversation with him. One of the observations I’m thinking about from his presentation was that we often talk about math in terms of educational success and job skills. Rarely do we talk about how math answers to deep human desires and cultivates the virtues that enable us to flourish. It occurs to me that we often talk about reading in similar ways to math: important to educational success and good jobs.

No question that this is true. But I wonder if that is all we focus on, we miss some of the things that foster flourishing readers–children and adults who not only can read, but find that reading makes us more fully human. Reading connects to deep human desires and cultivates virtues, as does math.

“Tell me a story.” Human beings are story-shaped creatures. We love stories–hearing them, telling them, living them and making sense out of our lives through stories. Some of the very best stories have been written down in books, and we often find ourselves within those stories.

Reading fosters imagination. The words on the page become images in our minds, so powerful and real, that we are often disappointed that movie adaptations are not nearly as good as the story we’ve imagined. Imagination enables us to envision what is and what could be, and to capture the imaginations of others.

I learn to empathize with those whose experiences I may not have shared. I am neither a woman nor a person of color or a resident of any number of countries. I will never fully understand the experience of any of these. But reading their narratives with a openness to their lived experience  can help me understand a little better, or at least show me how much I don’t know, which is also progress.

Reading builds human connection, whether between a parent and child, or two friends who discover they both like a particular writer or series of books and love to talk about them together. Sometimes our differences in taste are interesting. Why someone liked something that left us cold or vice versa can be offer insight into ourselves or others.

Sometimes we have genuine questions about something we just don’t understand, whether it is the history of our home town, how to repair our car, or the fabric of the cosmos. Reading can enrich our understanding of our world, and empower us to engage more effectively with it.

Reading causes us to reflect on the human condition. What is admirable? What is despicable? And what kind of person do I want to be? How have people faced adversity? What makes the difference between those who become bitter and those who become better?

And lest we get too serious, reading can be fun. Silly rhymes can make us laugh. Stories can amuse us and bring us joy.

I wonder whether in the press to pass standardized reading tests, our children may miss the opportunity to discover these humanizing aspects of reading, that also make reading deeply satisfying. I also can’t help but wonder if parents and educators who are in touch with these deeply human longings and weave them into their practice will educate more highly motivated readers.

 

 

Holding Your Books

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Have you ever thought about how you hold your books? Most of the time, I suspect our book holding maneuvers are subconscious as we shift a book from one hand to another, or re-position a book or ourselves.

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Ladakh” by Christopher Michel is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

I didn’t think about this so much in the past as I do now. Depending on the print size, my lap is too far away for these aging eyes and holding a large book in my hands gets tiring. Or I will cross my leg, and prop the book on my lower leg, until I uncross and recross my legs the other way. Resting the book on a table is another solution, but that means sitting at a table, hunch over if it is flat, or I hold the book propped up on the table

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Photo by r._.f from Pexels

I’ve always been a bit of a fidgeter. Sitting in a chair for very long and I have to move around. Sometimes I read standing. Sometimes laying down–until I fall asleep. Sometimes even laying on the floor.

Then there is the challenge of holding the book open. Many will not lie flat and so need to be held open.

Yet for some weird reason, I still usually prefer print to e-books, except for walking on my treadmill.

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Image by Wokandapix from Pixabay

Apparently people have been devising ways to cope with these challenges for years. Winston Churchill often worked and read at the standing desk pictured above–the original hands free reading. The desk here holds several open at once. I’ve seen some use drafting tables in this way. You just need some kind of ledge at the bottom to keep the books from sliding off.

Alternately, people have used book pillows to rest the book closer than a lap. There are acrylic book stands that can be placed on tables or wood book podiums that can be placed on a table.

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Photo via Pikrepo licensed under CC0 1.0

A variety of bookholders have been created for those who like to read in bed. These vary from lab desks and pillow desks to various bed tables, and even bedside tables like those whose in hospitals where the base is wheeled and slides under the bed and the stand tilts and can be adjusted to the ideal height and angle to “consume” your book. Here is a BookwormGadgets post that features a number of these products.

There is still the problem of holding your book open hands free, ideally in a way where it is easy to turn the page when you are ready, but secure. While some better books lie open of themselves, and are easily held, many either have to be held by one or two hands, and hardbound books can be awkward.

There is a Flipklip book holder that holds the book open but allows you to turn pages easily. There are various other page clips which are great at holding books open but need to be removed as you turn pages. If you are reading on flat surfaces, there are various types of bookweights, which probably work better than the stapler I sometimes use to hold a book open when I’m writing a review. Another BookwormGadgets post describes a number of these products.

Maybe this all seems fussy, and there are times when the book, the chair, the lighting are perfect, allowing us to lose ourselves. However, the existence of all these products suggest that I’m not the only one who finds holding a book in my hands or on my lap is not always optimal. All the items we have devised actually are quite ingenious, and many diehard readers end up using one or more.

It also reminds me of what an ergonomically exquisite thing an e-reader is–easily held, allowing one to set fonts. lightweight, and capable of holding not one book but thousands. It makes me wonder why so many of us still love print books–and reminds me what peculiar creatures we bibliophiles are.

 

A Bibliophile’s Top Ten For Thanksgiving

happy-thanksgiving-3767426_1280Thanksgiving is the traditional occasion for recalling the many good gifts of life for which we are thankful. With that holiday approaching, it occurred to me that bibliophiles have particular reason to be thankful. Here are ten:

  1. The gift of words. In well-crafted sentences and paragraphs, filling the imagination with ideas and stories films only poorly capture.
  2. The feel of a well-made book in one’s hand.
  3. The smell of books: fresh paper and ink, or the faint mustiness of an older book.
  4. The discovery of a good series and the thought that there may be two, five, ten or more to follow, where characters become friends (or hated enemies).
  5. That moment when light and seating, beverage and book merge into a seamless flow of pleasure as we lose ourselves in a story.
  6. The insight that the world, both real and imagined, is larger, more complicated and interesting that we’d previously thought.
  7. The re-reading of once, or twice, or thrice-loved books that are never the same book because we are never the same reader.
  8. The finding of a book on the shelves of a bookstore, or a book sale, that one has always wanted to acquire, as if both you and the book were just waiting this moment.
  9. The thought that there are professionals, booksellers and librarians, who share our love of books, and work to connect book and reader; where their employment and our enjoyment allow us both to flourish.
  10. Finally, there are those, usually teachers and parents, who ushered us into the love of story, the printed page, and the wonder of books. Perhaps for these we reserve our greatest thanks, for without them, the rest is not possible.

I could go on and I’m sure you can think of reasons to be thankful connected with books. Why don’t you add them in the comments below, and perhaps share this exercise with your book-loving friends and loved ones this Thursday. Happy Thanksgiving!

A Facebook Conundrum

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I ran into a conundrum yesterday in posting the above meme, of all places, on my Bob on Books Facebook page. It is a page that gather readers to talk about books and share their common love, and offers everything from humor to serious articles about book-related topics.

The conundrum, as some who are on the page noted, is the act of posting something like this does the very thing it discourages, taking us away from the book we were intending to read. It could probably be argued as well that hosting the page, and blogging about books,  takes me away from reading.

It may be observed that there are other things beside books, including the communal act of talking about books and ideas, hopefully civilly and substantively, rare things in our society, and even rarer on social media. I also post humor, because I think it is a healthy thing to laugh at ourselves as the quirky creatures who love books and reading and all things related, like libraries and bookstores.

But I also realize that it is possible to help dig reading’s grave with digital distractions. Apps like Facebook are exquisitely designed to do just that. Of course, we can say we are “reading,” and sometimes we really are. I find a number of great and interesting articles, that in the reading, enhance my understanding of authors, bookselling, and you name it connected with books.

Perhaps this is another aspect of the double-edged nature of many technologies, maybe all technology. Atomic energy can kill cancer, or kill people. Opioids can provide a merciful release for those in intense pain, or addict and kill.  Likewise, social media can point us to worthy books, and distract us from reading them.

So what is one to do? Perhaps the best I’ve come up with is to have social media time, and book time. It may mean having the phone in another room while one reads, or to turn off all notifications. Of course this is a problem for those who read on their phone or tablet computer with non-reading apps. Probably most of us need to set some boundaries on social media. Increasingly apps can even be set to allow us only a certain amount of viewing time per session.

I think managing digital distractions, which is really self-management, is just a reality of our modern lives, at least for most of us. Such self-management is what allows us to appropriately and not inordinately use such technology.

At least that’s what I tell myself as I curate my page. I assume we’re all adults and have learned, or are learning to set our own boundaries of social media use. It does seem that this is so from the titles and numbers of books people report having read. Maybe the meme above is nothing more than a “gotcha” moment we all laugh about.

But I’ve not stopped thinking about the conundrum, and trying to discern the line between ordinate and inordinate. I’d love to hear from others who host social media or blog sites as to what they think about this.

Reading When Others Want to Talk

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Screenshot of GIF posted on BookBub

Have you ever been trying to read when others want to talk and you end up reading the same paragraph over and over again? Do you find yourself internally “clinching up” and having to stifle your impulse to scream “shut up!”

Unless we decide to become hermits (who still depend on others for the necessities of life), a reality of life is that there will be times when we want to read and others want to talk. Even more, sometimes they want to talk with us!

Here are a few thoughts of how I (very imperfectly) deal with this dilemma:

  1. Sometimes you just need to give it up and choose relationships over books. Especially with spouses or partners or children who want to talk with us. Does it really pay to lose those you love to lose yourself in a book? I hope you don’t have to think too long about that!
  2. This also applies to social gatherings. Most people don’t assume this is a time for reading unless it has been arranged as a reading party–yes there is such a thing, and I’ve written about it.
  3. Try reading when others are sleeping, although this means sleeping on a different schedule.
  4. Agree on times that are “reading times” as a family. For the sake of the talkers, don’t exceed them! People will more readily allow you time to read if they know when you will be available–and you are.
  5. Sometimes, finding a quiet place, like a library reading room can work if that is the shared expectation. It only takes one loud talker on a cell phone to spoil it!
  6. If you want to read where there are conversations going on that don’t involve you but can be distracting, choose books that engage your attention, and don’t involve careful reading of densely articulated ideas.
  7. Depending on how you and other people in your household feel about it, and their bodily needs, the bathroom can sometimes offer a temporary refuge–emphasis on temporary!
  8. Weather permitting, is there a place outside your home that might be secluded, perhaps a “readers garden”? (I draw this term from a nearby bookstore of the same name).
  9. Speaking of bookstores, these also sometimes have alcoves or seating that allow for reading, and should be places that respect that.
  10. Sometimes, the best answer that combines reading and sociability is to read aloud together. Maybe you can even give each member of the family or group a chance to share a passage of what they are reading.

Reading is a conversation with an invisible author and requires our full attention. So do conversations with people. Most of the time, trying to multitask means we end up doing both badly, present to neither conversation. At least part of our screen time on cell phones is also reading–texts, comments, news, and shopping sites. Perhaps the offense of not being present happens here more than anywhere. Sometimes we are more present with what is on the screen than the person we are sitting with.

It all comes down, I guess, to which conversation we really want to be in.