On the joy of books.

What brings you joy? What value do you get from reading books?

I was one of the privileged ones: I grew up in a household that owned more than fifty books. By the time I moved away from home, I owned a least a couple hundred of my own. When I won a book-reading contest in second grade after not winning in the first, I was hooked for life.

Books, for me, give many simple joys. I name three for you, here.

Learning. I love ideas. I love debate. I love watching how people use words so that I can do it better, myself. I love knowing just enough to realise that I don’t know much at all. The world–the cosmos, even–is a big place, and that’s exciting.

Beauty. Books can be beautiful. I must admit: at least initially, I judge a book by its cover. Clean lines, intriguing patterns, a brilliant title, or a stunning man will pull me in. But a book will stay with me because I appreciate the beauty of the writing and thinking involved. The writing might be terse (Edmund White, Stephen King). It might be lyrical (Mary Doria Russell). It might be lucid, but also difficult and flappy (NT Wright). But I look for beauty, for resonance, for something that makes my insides sing because the universe is exciting and dangerous and broken and good.

Accomplishment. I own many, many books. I have read huge chunks of many, but many sit on my shelves, waiting for me to absorb them. If I can finish one book and reach for another, I feel a tremendous practical accomplishment. It’s one of the reasons I appreciate a site like Goodreads (notwithstanding its takeover by Amazon): I can challenge myself to keep reading, and also have some sense of my smallness–though there continue to be brilliant books published every day, I will never read more than the tiniest fraction. That’s actually a relief–I can give myself permission to say, “I don’t want to read that,” and feel OK with the decision.

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One comment

  1. Pingback: Fiction: A waste of time? | theologywriter

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