Saturday Book Notes
I've begun reading a YA novel Called The Flame Tree, by Richard Lewis. This is a book I first read about at Brandywine Books, then also at Collected Miscellany. You can read an interview with the author here. So far, The Flame Tree is a very engaging find.
My reading list these days is dominated by distinctly Christian writing of course, but I don't want to limit myself to that. I try to sprinkle in some fiction from time to time, but it must be fiction that challenges. Certainly I've read my share of ephemeral stuff (this year, one may note, for example, the incredibly trivial, but nevertheless amusing, Dave Barry's Book of Bad Songs). But, for me, reading is not not just another form of entertainment, not just an alternative to TV, nor is it primarily educational. While it can of course be entertaining and is often at some level educational, it's greatest value for me is that it affords an opportunity to cross the borders of the self and interact with the mind (indeed, with the spirit) of another.
Precisely for this reason reading, like art, like all forms of communication, is an open-ended process. A book is an act of communication. Even something as "big" as, say, War and Peace is nothing more than Tolstoy's "remarks" in a conversation that began long before his time and has continued since. It is a response only, however refined and thoughtful, and one to which the reader in turn responds in a way that is at least as complex, though probably not so literary. So the book is by no means an end in itself; it is not a monument, but a voice. In fact: "the voice of one calling in the wilderness." As are all the voices of men, always.
Now, I am happy to speak of the "greatness" of writers like Tolstoy, but their greatness has entirely to do with their effectiveness in calling forth the reader from the lonely cave of the self. A good book is truly an invitation. The writer speaks the "come forth" that is the sub-text of every true act of communication. The reader's part is not only to listen, then, but also to respond. That, after all, is the nature of communication, and that is also why we consider the refusal to respond a deeply wounding act. To ignore, to "blow off," the words of another is the deepest cut. It is not surprising to me that God chose to communicate with His children by means of the written word, and that everything should hinge on our response. Reading is not only, as they say, "fundamental," but it is also (potentially) "spiritual" in the most literal sense of that over-used word.