Reading as a Way of Life

I never leave the house without a book . . . BUT one busy Wednesday when an unexpected medical appointment pushed an already derailed schedule even further off track, I jumped into the driver’s seat of our car, headed down the bumpy hill of our driveway, and only then realized the horrible truth. In my rush, I had not even thought to grab my book on the way out the door. Time was already in short supply, so there was no turning back. My fate was sealed, so I faced the daunting prospect of a waiting room chair and magazine roulette with as much courage as I could muster.

If you are not a bookish individual, well. . . you’re probably thinking that I have bigger problems than an over-booked Wednesday. However, if you ARE of a book-ish persuasion, then I feel certain that you have just commiserated with me throughout this first paragraph, because you know. When reading is a way of life, there’s always a book somewhere. Packing for vacation becomes a delightful process of choosing the right number, size, and selection of books to fit the space and the time available. Finishing the book of the moment always leads to the joyous question of, “What Should I Read Next?” Anne Bogel has come alongside book lovers with a podcast that seeks to answer that important question, and now there is a book, a collection of essays, uniquely crafted for the bibliophile’s journey through life, coming from a guide who is also a fellow traveler.

I’d Rather Be Reading: The Delights and Dilemmas of the Reading Life is the conversation you long to have over tea with a fellow book nerd. It’s the 150-page embodiment of the classic C.S. Lewis friendship filter question: “What? You too? I thought that no one but myself . . .”  True to her claim that she “doesn’t get bossy,” Anne poses a number of the great questions of the reading life, shares her own conclusions in a conversational style, and leaves readers free to live their way into their own conclusions as they experience the delights and persevere through the dilemmas of the reading life:

To Find or to Be Found?

While Anne makes reading recommendations to guests on her podcast, she is also a firm believer that “books move in mysterious ways” (29) and may come looking for you at just the right time. Of course, it is also true that for the sincere book lover, planning one’s reading is a huge part of the fun, and suggestions from friends and catalogs and book reviews make this kind of planning possible.  Recommendations from one adult to another should never be delivered as assignments, and Anne warns against the word “should–a dangerous word, a warning sign that we’re crossing an important boundary and veering into book bossiness.”

What’s your opinion? Do you like to find your books or do you prefer to be found by them?

Library or Bookshelves?

The minimalist in me loves my local library. I can read, enjoy, and return without making a dent in the precious space on my bookcases. Some books, however, just have to become part of the collection, and Anne offers suggestions for organizing those book shelves that range from suggested methods (by color? by Dewey Decimal? by Trivial Pursuit Category?) to thoughts on the expendability of dust jackets. Before I started reviewing books for publishers, at least 75% of my reading material came from the library. Now, I read fewer than a dozen library books per year, which makes me a little sad.

Are you a borrower or a buyer?

Do You Read the Extra Stuff?

Anne recalls the season in which she began reading the author’s acknowledgements, discovering whom they thank, in what order, and what they divulge about their writing process. To me this is all a gold mine! In addition, I keep an extra book mark in the footnotes so I can easily turn back and refer to them as they appear in the text. (They are a great source for future reading!)

Do you skip over the introduction, author’s acknowledgement, and footnotes to a book or are they part of the reading experience for you? 

To Re-read or Not to Re-read?

One fall in the early 90’s a friend recommended Wallace Stegner’s Crossing to Safety, and it became my go-to read every autumn for years afterward. I picked it up again this fall for a ruminative re-read after a gap of at least ten years and found that the aging process has only heightened my appreciation of the book. Bogel, too, has “found that a good book not only holds up to repeated visits, but improves each time we return to it. Thousands of years ago, the Greek philosopher Heraclitus wrote, ‘No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.'” Because we change, a re-read is hardly ever a static experience.

Do you feel as if there are too many great books in the world to bother re-reading or do you re-visit old books like old friends?

Are You a Book Person?

I’d Rather Be Reading piggybacks on a rich Madeleine L’Engle quote:

“The great thing about getting older is you don’t lose all the other ages you’ve been.”   

Your present day reading life has been shaped by all the readers you have ever been. This is good news because it means that somehow, in this season of reading lots of Christian non-fiction, my impressions are being enriched by my depressing-Russian-novel-phase, my obsession with Luci Shaw’s poetry, and the year I read nothing but Tolkien.

If you regularly find yourself getting hooked on a story line, if you think about the characters in a book long after you’ve reached the last page (maybe even mentally continuing the story or wondering what those characters are up to), or if you feel as if you know a favorite author well enough to have decided that they could be your friend should you happen to meet them–or that you would be terrified of them–you are probably a book person. For you, reading is more than a hobby or a pastime or a means to an end. Reading is a way of life.

Many thanks to Baker Books for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.

Loving the reading life,

Michele Morin

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