In An Experiment in Criticism, C.S. Lewis asserts that there aren’t two types of books (good and bad), but instead, there are two types of readers: the “many” and the “few”. I feel confident that everyone reading this blog post falls into the second category.
Even in Christian culture we have a tendency to magnify the extraordinary and minimize the ordinary. It’s laughable, really, because Christ Himself lived a beautiful ordinary life.
It seems like a questionable decision brought on by too few hours of consecutive sleep (not unlike when I put the ketchup bottle in the dishwasher or when I machine washed and dried my favorite wool sweater). According to lots of people who know me (and everyone who doesn’t know me but sees me at Costco), my hands are full. I don’t have time to start a book club. Maybe, just maybe, I could join a book club that someone else started (probably not, though, because I wouldn’t have time to keep up with the reading). That’s why I love Well-Read Mom.
Wendell Berry’s Jayber Crow left a significant imprint on my heart and mind. My heart was captivated by his sincere interest in understanding people and the depths of their stories and discovering—through honest reflection—what it means to belong. But I also found such a strong moral vision in Jayber Crow. This story in particular teaches us more than statistics can about the beauty of the land and the necessary stewardship that follows. Having lost our collective memory of the land and our illiteracy when it comes to nature, we need to re-learn how to see the goodness and beauty of nature to know the moral limits of technological control.
When I was a child, sprawled out across my bed, delighting in Anne for the first time, her quaint sense of melodrama (to which I completely related) and her yearning for beauty and love spoke to my very soul. As a teenager, I sought to emulate Anne’s sense of conviction, righteousness, and ambition, desiring to aspire to her lofty ideals of character and empathizing with her very human struggles. Now, as an adult, though I certainly revel in those aspects of the story, I find myself increasingly pondering Matthew and Marilla’s role in this poignant tale.
“Mom, come sit down and enjoy this movie with us.” As I sit down on the arm of the couch (with broom in hand) I respond with, “Oh, I really shouldn’t. I have so much work to do…” I walk away asking myself why I feel so much guilt when I do take stolen moments of time to relax. Why am I always seemingly harassed to keep working, to produce, and to make good use of my time?
What is it that enables literature to have such an influential sway over our very souls? What causes the youngest of children to relish fairytales, repeated countless times? What prompts a person to pick up the same well-worn novel and lovingly caress its binding before diving in once again? Picturesque visions of other worlds, the artistry of an author’s words, and the intricacies of plot all have the capacity to entertain. But why do the very best of books beckon to our souls, leaving them utterly transformed?
The literature proposed opens our minds as mothers and women to something greater than our daily battles and successes at home and at work. When I take time during the day and put off other chores, other good things, and even the demands of my children for the sake of reading, I am making space for my own growth.
To the worried, to the overwhelmed, to the emotionally or spiritually exhausted, the honeyed eloquence of de Sales has a vivifying effect, buoying his readers against the spiritual assaults that frequently demoralize our efforts toward a deeper and more devoted relationship with Christ. In a season where mothers are often pushed to the brink of utter exhaustion and harried frenzy, Saint Francis emphasizes a spirit of patient calm.
When we read, we witness a drama being played out between the characters and their circumstances. This drama provokes questions in us – serious questions about the human experience – and we then realize that our life, too, is a drama. Great writers stir up questions that can be painful for us to face.