A Good Read

25 07 2011

             Yesterday, my husband and I trimmed branches off the trees in our front yard.  [Yes, Lord, I know it was Your day, but Brian had spent Friday working for Habitat and Saturday working on the ramp ministry, so I hope You don’t mind.]  The branches were getting so thick we couldn’t see the house from the street.  We made quite a show of it: two ladders, two chainsaws, him cutting, me dragging.  It was hot.  The branches reached out and scratched me at every opportunity. (Me: Tree, look at this like a haircut.  Tree: Yeah, how would you like your limbs cut off?)  When we finally decided to call it a day at 6:00, I was whupped.

Yet the whole time I was out there, I wasn’t really out there.  I was in an operating room with Marion Stone, trying to adjust to life in America after having narrowly escaped being thrown in a dank prison in Addis Abba, Ethiopia.  I had started this book several weeks ago when in Alaska on vacation, but it had taken me a while to really get into it.  Now I was in so deep, I couldn’t get out.  I felt like an enormous black hole was drawing me in.  At the center of the black hole was Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese.

Good books are like that.  They grab you, shake your thinking around, and wrap their tendrils around you until they have woven a way into your being.  They enrich your life.  They teach you without realizing it.  Did you know that Marion Sims is considered the father of American gynecology?  For two years I lived at USC right beside a dorm named in his honor.  Until I read Cutting for Stone, I didn’t know who he was.

Yet the real value of good books goes far beyond mere facts.  Ideas open your mind, broadening your life.  From this book alone, I’ve learned about the life, culture, and history of Ethiopia, I’ve learned about parenting techniques and what it means to be a parent, and I’ve learned about having a passion for your life’s work and balancing that passion for work with relationships developed with family and friends.  I’ve learned that human emotions are universal, that the dirty poor living in the worst conditions in Ethiopia grieve just as deeply over the loss of a loved one as we do with our advanced degrees and homes stuffed with the latest latest.  Maybe even more, since relationships are all they have.

From reading good books, I’ve learned how to write.  I’ve had some good writing instructors along the way, but at best they’ve provided me with a few tips and a lot of motivation.  By reading good books, I’ve learned techniques: sentence formation and fluency, structure, organization, and voice.  I struggled with Verghese’s style of writing at first.  Too many tangents, I thought.  Just cut to the chase.  Yet midway through the book the pieces started tying together.  Genius!

Notice how I keep saying “good books?”  Maybe I should throw some synonyms in there: quality literature, engaging prose…  But one point I want to make is that not only is reading important, but it is just as important to read the good stuff.  We are told that to raise our children to be readers, we should allow them to read whatever they want, as long as they are reading.  Cereal boxes and comic books count as much as the classics.  I do think that comic books have a place, as do those books I see boys buying at school book fairs that give them tips and codes for advancing to the next level of their favorite video game.  But let’s read them Jack London’s Call of the Wild while they eat breakfast or before bedtime.  Steer them toward the books with lasting messages, not just the latest in the vampire series.

Reading has taught me to write and also to think.  And now I think it’s time to get back to my book.  My Kindle tells me I’m 79% through.  I hate that.  I want to stay in this book forever.  It’s a good read!

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2 responses

25 07 2011
Kathryn Fenner

Girlfriend–you had to pick a day when it was over 100??

God is glad you are taking care of his trees, but he says you should wait for even a slightly cooler day! Summer is for books, especially 100 degree plus days.

25 07 2011
eberteach

True, but it needs to be a day when we both have time and motivation. Those days are few and far between. Yesterday happened to be one, and luckily I didn’t check the thermometer before heading outside.

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