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Saturday, August 18, 2012

Reading Is Fundamental

I grew up with this motto ringing in my ears at school and on TV (when I wasn't watching Gilligan's Island or Schoolhouse Rock.) As the daughter of a junior high English teacher mom and a dad who majored in political science and philosophy, my home was filled with books and a lot of public television. One summer we moved, and rather than try to make friends in my neighborhood, I hunkered down in my room and read an entire set of children's encyclopedia. (Feel free to roll your eyes.)

Nevertheless, I have never shaken the reading bug. And I have confessed to more than one friend that I believe I enjoy owning books as much as reading them... But my good friends Jason and Nancy convinced me this spring to give in and buy a Kindle. While I am certainly not weaned of books entirely, I have found it to be pretty darn great to know that by tucking one slim little device in my bag that I have a wealth of options at my fingertips..

This week only hardened my resolve to persevere in my reading addiction as I read this article from Harvard Business Review (HBR), whose title had me at hello: For Those Who Want to Lead, Read. There is so much great material in its two brief pages, take a few minutes and read it yourself. But these words break my heart:
The National Endowment for the Arts (PDF) has found that "[r]eading has declined among every group of adult Americans," and for the first time in American history, "less than half of the U.S. adult American population is reading literature."
Combine that with this next section:
This is terrible for leadership, where my experience suggests those trends are even more pronounced. Business people seem to be reading less — particularly material unrelated to business. But deep, broad reading habits are often a defining characteristic of our greatest leaders and can catalyze insight, innovation, empathy, and personal effectiveness.
In this "third half" of my career I am focusing my energies more and more on leadership development. I am beyond grateful for the opportunity through the Free Methodist Church in Southern CA to focus on the investment and growth of young leaders through our summer interns program; even more I am stoked about the advent of the Center for Transformational Leadership, which I am helping to direct. These, along with some teaching and speaking opportunities starting this fall, make me want to pinch myself -- I must be dreaming!

The HBR article states some obvious but significant benefits from regular reading and how it broadens the capacity for leadership: improved intelligence, innovation, insight, increased vocabulary. And I heartily agree that it is also a fantastic stress-reducer, and love hearing that it is an apparent way to fend off Alzheimer's! Who knew?

So I am frequently asking others what they are reading. I don't know about you, but I always have a few books going at once. Here's my latest list:

  • The Norton Anthology of Poetry. I mentioned this one earlier in the summer. Slow and steady wins the race here, I pray. It started with Caedmon's Hymn from the 7th century, and I've progressed to the 16th century. That's something, right? More importantly, I am really enjoying it. Poetry is not something to be rushed.
  • A Future for the Latino Church: Models for Multilingual, Multigenerational Congregations by Daniel Rodriguez. I just finished this this week. I cannot recommend this book enough. It expresses the reality of church ministry in Southern California. Our denomination has eight languages being used in our churches, so I'm looking for any insights I can gain in what it means to minister and develop leaders interculturally.
  • Ministry in the Image of God: The Trinitarian Shape of Christian Service by Stephen Seamands. This was recommended to me by Telford Work, chair of the Religious Studies department at Westmont College. I'm going to use it in a class I'm teaching on internships for the department this fall. It is outstanding, practical, readable and theologically solid.
  • The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter--And How to Make the Most of Them Now by Meg Jay. This one has been recommended to me by two different people. I'm just getting ready to start it. I do not know if it's a function of my age or calling, but as my vision for leadership development sharpens I find I am moving from adolescents to college students and young adults. I have had the "now what?" conversation with recent college graduates a few hundred times, so I am really looking forward to hearing from someone else on this subject.
  • The Best Short Stories of Fyodor Dostoevsky. To relax, I opt for narrative non-fiction over fiction, but I found this book neglected in my room the other day and decided I need to give it a whirl. How can I go wrong with Dostoevsky??
As I said, I love to hear what others are reading and why... Comments?


  1. i just got SO EXCITED when i saw the title: a future for the latino church!!!! ahhh i'm borrowing it from you/buying it myself. also wanna read this meg jay book too. thanks for being a bookworm!!

  2. This is an outstanding book. A few of us are reading it together at church. I'm afraid you can't borrow mine -- I have it on my new Kindle :) The whole staff at Free Methodist is reading the Meg Jay book this fall. Good times. We will carry on as bookworms together in Santa Barbara soon - hurry on home.