Every time our family moves, which to date has been eight times in the last eleven years, we run into the same problem. We own too many books. While we easily cull the rest of our accumulated baggage (“Do we really need more than one towel per person?” my husband asks as he packs the linen closet), we have a very hard time separating ourselves from such old friends as Lewis
. This last move, we even jettisoned our kitchen chairs because they wouldn’t fit onto the moving truck despite the fact that over thirty boxes of books had.
Six months later, we’re still sitting on folding chairs at dinner time.
When we arrive in a new area, one of the first things we do is apply for local library cards. Before finding a family doctor, before changing our voter registration, before transferring our drivers’ licenses, we find a source of cheap, sustainable books (preferably that have a four week lending period). Because as problematic as it may be to be pulled over and have to explain why you’re driving with a Indiana license when you reside in Virginia, nothing compares to the panic that grips my soul at the thought of not having bedtime stories or a pile of books waiting patiently for me on my nightstand.
For me, this love affair with books (which I suppose also meets the clinical definition of certain addictions) began when I was young. My mother was (and is still) an insatiable reader who was rarely seen without a book in hand—everything from Dickens to Horace to Austen–this woman taught me that while it’s fine for a girl to be pretty, it’s essential that she read. And do so often. My husband, on the other hand, didn’t discover reading until his sophomore year of college when his American Lit professor captured his imagination with an excerpt from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
(Consider this a plug for required college English classes—you never know what they may ignite.)
And yet, I really don’t count myself among the literati. There are lots of books that I haven’t read, lots that I should have, and probably even more that I shouldn’t have. I always feel slightly inferior whenever I see my friends’ Goodreads’ lists or overhear them discussing the latest, most significant, most groundbreaking new release—the one that I didn’t even know existed. And to be perfectly honest, I find myself projecting these insecurities as I smugly pass the Amish fiction section in the local Christian bookstore--all the while secretly wondering what I’m missing.
Still, according to Karen Swallow Prior
, Chair of the Department of English and Modern Languages at Liberty University, this isn’t a problem. In this interview
spotlighting her recently released memoir, Booked! Literature in the Soul of Me
, Prior suggests that it’s not so much what we read—although I’m sure she’d have a some recommendations—as it is that we read,
that we allow the process to shape our souls as it has hers. In doing so she echoes the words of G.K. Chesterton who argues in “The Ethics of Elfland”
that his faith began in the nursery where he acquired a “certain way of looking at life, which was created in me by the fairy tales, but has since been meekly ratified by mere facts.”
Simply put, what we acquire through literature is what we need to live in reality. When a story stretches our capacity to understand situations and characters, it is in effect teaching us how to “read” life. And through the process, we discover more about ourselves, our God, and others. Through His good gift of the book, our souls expand and we are given the opportunity to live beyond ourselves in order to gain perspective on ourselves. If only in those moments, if only through the slimmest of volumes, we are ushered into a “laboratory of life” in which we can experiment and dream, in which we can see the world as it should be or discover the tragic consequences when it is not.
It is no coincidence that Christians should be, not only people of “The Book,” but people of books. In His wisdom, our God has ordained that His words not simply be spoken by the prophets but that they also be written and preserved by the scribe. And perhaps more significantly, in His wisdom, our God has deigned to call His Son the incarnate Word—a living, breathing, walking… story. A Story within a story. The
Story on which all others rest.
We should not be surprised then if our souls, the very souls that were formed after His, resonate and thrill at stories. We should not be surprised if despite ourselves we love what He loves. And we should not be surprised, that as much as we like to think that we own our books, we often find—thirty boxes and eight moving trucks later—that we are owned by them instead.
I’m not talking about the newer series post-1970s that’s filled with nasty bits and epic romance – my nine-year-old self was quite content with an amorphous Ned who appeared ever few chapters to escort Nancy to a seasonal BBQ or give her an occasion to wear her new taffeta party dress. And as far as violence, for me it was pretty dicey when Nancy was bound, gagged and left to starve.
No, I’m talking about that classic Nancy Drew that lived somewhere in the magical world post-high school but pre-matrimony. Old enough to drive
and travel independently, but young enough to still need her dad. And, always, regardless of the situation, mature enough to help others with grace and style
I’m not the only one who thinks so either.
In this NY Times piece
, all three women Supreme Court Justices identify Nancy as a formative literary role model. What captured them probably has less to with Nancy’s white middle-class upbringing and more to do with the essence of Nancy herself. As critic Melanie Rehak recognizes, “Nancy was courageous and independent but she never used that independence in an overtly rebellious way. Instead, she used her freedom to have adventures, but they were always in the name of doing good and serving justice.”
And that’s one reason why I’m purposefully directing my daughter to these books. (That and it gives me an excuse to re-read them myself.) I’m not vying for her to be a Supreme Court Justice one day—heaven knows we don’t need the High Court adjudicating whether or not Barbie Fairytopia is in copyright infringement of Disney’s Pixie Hollow—but I do want her to have a robust view of womanhood. I want her to know how to bake a cake for the elderly
neighbor next door and have the guts to chase away the intruder who’s trying to steal said neighbor’s family silver. I want her to be smart and kind, pretty and unpretentious, appropriate and daring. I want her to be forgiving and humble, gracious and accomplished.
All at the same time
I’ve decided that in my next life I want to be reincarnated as Nancy Drew.
Certainly I’m not conferring faith or belief on Nancy. And maybe it’s simply an example of common grace, general revelation, or the two times a day that the stopped clock is right
, but a lot that I learned about womanhood came from having Nancy Drew in one hand and my Bible in the other. And the more I read the latter, the more I’m realizing that true womanhood isn’t an either/or proposition.
More than likely, it’s both/and.
It’s women with a hammer in one hand and a baby in the other. It’s women with the wisdom to defer an angry king and the kindness to minister to the King of Kings. It’s women with strength to lead and the humility to follow. And it’s women with the grace to move in society at the very time that they are turning the world upside down.
I’m from a generation that is quick to throw off anything that we don’t deem significant whether it’s marriage, motherhood, or social propriety. But I’m also from a generation that is perilously divided and grotesquely caricatured by our private definitions of what it means to be a woman.
Perhaps the truth lies somewhere with a powder blue convertible, a twin set, and a pair of pumps. So as for me, don’t be surprised if you peek in the back of my minivan while I’m ferrying my children around town and see an overnight case packed with a change of clothes, pajamas, a toothbrush, and a bathing suit.
Just in case.
And while some might say I want her to be Nancy Drew, others would simply see hints of Proverbs 31. Surprisingly, in my experience, the two conflict less often than you’d think. One presents an image of a gracious woman, sympathetic to the needs of those around her, bravely facing danger with courage, smarts, and determination; and the other presents…. an image of a gracious woman, sympathetic to the needs of those around her, bravely facing danger with courage, smarts,
by Ruth Younts Shepherd Press 2011
If your family is anything like ours, the last few days of Thanksgiving vacation were a mixed blessing of the joy of taking a break from the routines of life to spend time together and the absolute dismay of realizing how much fighting and nastiness happens when you do. And it was probably all capped off by the resolution to "get this house in order." Well, let me offer this book as a means to that end.
I recently reviewed Ruth Younts' Get Wisdom! here
and thought you might enjoy the tip. It's a great little book designed to teach children the basics of Christian virtue and help them work it out in practice (i.e. being kind means not spitting on your sister's back when you're brushing your teeth even if she IS blocking the sink.) Have a look and see if it might be just the thing you need to survive Christmas vacation.
If you're interested in good book that handles a controversial subject with grace and balance, hop on over to The Gospel Coalition and read the review
I did recently of Dealing with Depression: Trusting God through the Dark Times
. It was written by Sarah Collins, a former teacher and Jayne Haynes, a family doctor who recognized that many of their Christian friends and family were ill-equipped to respond to depression in the church. Here's an excerpt of the review:
As we support those suffering from depression, we must gently assure them that there is hope and purpose even in the midst of their pain. God has not abandoned them; Christ himself is a Great High Priest who intercedes for them, and ultimately he is drawing them closer to Himself. That’s good news for anyone lost in depression’s maze of doubt, pain, grief, and uncertainty.
Occasionally, I’ll be posting about books that I have read recently or have been especially helped by. So even though there’ll be no coffee or pastries, consider this our little book club. And by all means, if you have favorites of your own, especially in the same genre or on topic, please share them with the rest of us.
I remember the day eleven years ago when a college classmate met me in tears saying that our modern philosophy class had been canceled due to the unexpected death of our professor’s wife. In a small liberal arts college, with an even smaller English department, the loss hit everyone. When class resumed about a week later, I remember the profound need to choke back tears as our professor, Dr. Ron Horton
, walked through the door and all I could think was how vulnerable he must be. He came in, arranged his things on the desk, quietly thanked everyone, and proceeded to lecture about 20th century philosophers.
Dr. Horton is the essential college professor complete with chalk dust on his blazer, illegible handwriting, a quiet demeanor, and absolute brilliance. He taught some of my most formative classes and was the first to show me the link between thinking and writing. Thanks to him, I learned that if I couldn’t write about an idea clearly, I hadn’t yet thought about it clearly.
Still as valuable as these lessons were, some the greatest ones he would teach me would happen years after graduation.
In a previous post
, I referenced a difficult time my family has experienced. As with any loss, our initial instinct was to batten down the hatches, deal with immediate physical needs, and suppress any emotional reaction until later. But suppress it as we might, there was going to be a day of reckoning. So, several months later when the emotions and moods could no longer be contained, it was time. And there, up on a shelf, as unassuming as its author, was Dr. Horton’s book, Mood Tides.
Born out of the unexpected loss of his wife and rooted in his years as a Christian professor, Dr. Horton’s book is more robust than the typical self-help manual. With a healthy dose of philosophy and a firm, Biblical understanding of the human condition, Dr. Horton presents a direct, thoughtful exposition of the self and the emotional fluctuations that we all experience. To be fair, this isn’t a book about healing after a personal crisis – it’s more about understanding and embracing the divine order in our emotional makeup, about accepting the ups and downs of life as God-imagined and God-ordained. And though Dr. Horton would probably cringe to hear me put it this way, the message is this: “In the good times, it’s okay to laugh and in the bad, it’s okay to cry. God made you this way. He is ordering your life, and this is how you know Him and glorify Him best.”
Welcome advice for those of us who were taught to be suspicious of our feelings and schooled in controlling them.
Many of us mistakenly think that God’s grace in life means not giving us more than we can handle. From this, we conclude that if something bad happens to us, we must be meant to "handle it." And so we develop complex ways of managing pain by our ration and will; and when that fails, we often deny it altogether. But the truth is that God’s grace and healing come only when we’ve reached the point that we can’t
handle life on our own anymore, when we’re hopeless, helpless, and desperate. God’s grace and healing come only to those who need it, to those who need Him.
There were nights over the last year when I would go to bed absolutely wracked by the pain of loss, my mind swirling with a sea of questions. At that point, there was no ration; there was no will. At that point, all I could do was lay my head on the pillow, weep, and let Jesus to hold me. All I could do was cry out to a God whom I desperately needed.
And that, according to Dr. Horton, was exactly what I was supposed to do.