What are you reading?

April 24, 2013 | Viewpoints | Number 9
Melissa Miller |

“What are you reading?” I’ll ask my mother, a friend or colleague. Partly I’m trolling for good titles, and partly I’m inviting them to tell me about their lives, what they are interested in, moved by, curious about or are learning. We read because it helps us navigate life. We draw from the content of the books to mull over and make sense of life in all its mystery, wonder and complexities. And then we talk about what we’ve found in those books.

As author Nina Sankovitch says, “[T]alking about books allows me to talk about anything with anyone. With family, friends and even with strangers . . . when we discuss what we’re reading, what we are really discussing is our own lives.”

Sankovitch, by the way, read a book a day for a whole year as a way to grieve her sister’s death and re-engage with life. She records that experience, complete with her book list, in Tolstoy and the Purple Chair.

One of the blessings of my current life is spaciousness. Into the space of a quiet home and frequent airplane travel I bring books. In the space of my pastoral work I am required to read and study, a requirement I happily fulfill, for I truly love to read the Bible and books about the Bible. Books offer unlimited possibilities to fill the spaciousness of life with ideas, inspiration, knowledge and guidance.

In the last month I’ve travelled with a modern entrepreneur in my work on the MennoMedia board (The Lean Start-up by Eric Ries). I polished off a new-to-me Canadian mystery (Still Life by Louise Penny). And I allowed the fascinating dialogue between two Jesus scholars, one conservative and one liberal—(The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions by Marcus Borg and N.T. Wright)—to stretch my understanding of my faith in Jesus and deepen it.

As one who has loved books for decades, I survey the shifting landscape of the printed word with curiosity and at least a degree of distress:

  • Will my favourite bookstore be able to stay in business selling books, or will its floor space be given over increasingly to kitchenware and baubles?
  • Will the youngsters in my life have the attention span to curl up with me to share the wonder of a beautifully illustrated, profound tale like God’s Dream by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Douglas Carlton Abrams?
  • Will fine authors be able to make a living as writers, or will we lose their marvellous words and shining truths?
  • Will eBooks, which lack the feel and scent of pages, dramatically change how we engage with books? My only foray in this area, Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan, was encouraging; I found the book, and the experience of reading it, to be as memorable and compelling as any other great story.

Recently, I’ve concluded that I don’t need to worry. Partly I take heart from the Bible itself, which spans thousands of years, and has only existed in its readily accessible printed form for the last few hundred of those years. The Bible itself is a compilation of many books, with an array of genres, including poetry, history, wisdom teachings, and straight or metaphorical storytelling. The multi-voiced perspectives of the biblical authors are knit together with a common purpose, that of telling the story of God’s love for the world, and God’s pursuit of and interaction with humans. In all likelihood, God will continue to find ways to speak the Word into our lives, however books and their readers evolve.

Melissa Miller (familyties@mymts.net) lives in Winnipeg. She is wrapped in the family ties of daughter, sister, wife, mother, friend and pastor.

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