Do you remember when you truly fell in love with reading?
For some it was early on when as a child they picked up a copy of a book and wouldn’t put it down. I know of kids in second grade who have devoured all of the Harry Potter books and haven’t stopped since. I’ve seen my daughters fall in love with a book and their heads disappear into a book’s pages until that satisfactory grin appears when they are finished, slide the book onto their lap, and fold it closed. I was not one of those kids. Despite not being a voracious reader my entire life, my earlier years were filled with a few books that helped define where and who I was and have shaped me into the imaginative reader I am today. Books, after all, can be a part of our biography.
I believe each of us should develop a genuine love for reading, but my hope is that it result in an inspiration of imagination. God has taken me on such a journey in reading through the years and I am grateful for the process. There were sparks when I was immersed in story. There were times when I was dry as the desert. I am grateful for each of those times as they reminded me that I am called to go back to story. After all, God beckons us with story.
In gratitude and remembrance, I am especially thankful for a few books in my story that have shaped who I am today through specific phases of life.
Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson and Number the Stars by Lois Lowry: These are wonderful books to instill imagination and empathy. Both are about powerful yet vulnerable characters who develop friendships. Bridge to Terabithia helped me understand grief and friendship. Number the Stars built empathy and courage, compelling me to stand up and do the right thing for others who were vulnerable. I read these at a time when I struggled with those same issues, and the books helped me explore and better understand these emotions as I grew up. It brings such joy to see my children read these same books that shaped my childhood and discuss what we learn together. Reading, like life, is a process of handing down wisdom that can be learned over again.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee was recently named “The Great American Read” by Meredith Viera’s PBS show. Atticus Finch, the father of Scout the main character, is also often voted as the most important and inspiring character in American literature. I couldn’t agree more. Most of us were required to read this book in school, and I read it twice: once during my freshman year in Kansas City where I grew up and then again after I moved to St. Louis that same year. I learned about what it truly meant to be in someone else’s shoes as a new kid in a school just as Scout learned in her journey to understand others. This book developed in me a greater level of empathy toward those who seem uncomfortable or different from me. After I came to know Jesus through Young Life, I tried to always be the person who would welcome others who didn’t have a friend. Outside of God’s Word, this has been the most important book in my life.
Young Working Adult
My young adult life was filled with a love for history and biography. After traveling and working abroad for six months, I found myself staring up at a bookshelf in a friend’s home. I saw a copy of Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose, which chronicled Lewis and Clark’s journey to find a passage to the west coast. I had never read a history book that was written in such beautiful story form like a fiction book. I was hooked. Soon after finishing, I immersed myself in other grand history books like John Adams by David McCullough, multiple biographies about Winston Churchill, Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, and Civil War books like April 1865 by Jay Winik. History and biography are still my favorite books and serve as a reminder that learning can never be exhausted.
What is beautiful about being an adult is that you learn to explore a little more, often simply because you get bored. I certainly know that you may find your “comfort zone” books in adulthood, but ultimately and somewhat through boredom, I have needed to challenge myself to read more, while also reading widely. The temptation to read more complicated books can be strong, but ultimately I have found that I am still most drawn to beautiful storytellers who write characters in which I can immerse myself. Fiction has become my friend in these years. Peace Like a River by Leif Enger is a good example of a beautiful story of a father (yes, I read this as a young father) who is on a journey with two of his children to find another child on the run. Other writers that have captured me like Leif Enger are Wendell Berry, Cormac McCarthy, Candice MIllard, Tim Keller, Andy Crouch, C.S. Lewis, and J.R.R. Tolkien. The lessons from these stories and storytellers run deep and are shaping me still today.
Reading has the power to change what is perhaps an unfinished story in our lives, and the wisdom reading offers may be an important catalyst to growth, as it has been in each phase of my life.