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Saturday, December 7, 2013

Portable Magic

“You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.” C. S. Lewis

Despite all of the advances in technology, I still find that reading a book is my favorite way to pass the time. I chose to be an English major in college because I could not imagine how fun it would be to have my actual job be to read! I will admit that being an English major on the quarter system at UCSB (as opposed to semesters) is not something I would care to repeat -- I still have occasional flashbacks about the quarter when I took two lit classes and had to read 17 books in ten weeks. Even still, I reveled in my major, and am thankful for the strong foundation of reading in Milton, Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Blake, Homer, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Austen, Chaucer (among so many others) that was instilled in me. Further classes introduced me to Dante, Cervantes, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Camus, Weil, Kafka, Neruda, Marquez, Sartre... ah, those were the days.

Though the working life does not allow for that amount of reading anymore, I developed the habit back then of always working on a 2-3 books at a time. I spent much of the Thanksgiving holiday buried in reading, and look forward to even more of the same during Christmas break. Here are the ones I'm currently working on:

  • A Thomas Merton Reader. I stumbled on this at a used bookstore (how few of those there are any longer... boooooooo.....) During a trip in Italy a few years ago I brought The Seven Storey Mountain and developed a taste for Merton. While some of his writing is a little raggedy and I don't always agree with him spiritually, I find him to be an exciting and raw writer who challenges me in many ways. I especially love his stuff on the contemplative life, and let's be honest, his own story is a crazy and fascinating tale. Favorite quote so far: Sincerity in the fullest sense is a divine gift, a clarity of spirit that comes only with grace. Unless we are made “new men,” created according to God “in justice and the holiness of truth,” we cannot avoid some of the lying and double dealing which have become instinctive in our natures, corrupted, as St. Paul says, “according to the desire of error.” (Eph. 4:22)
  • Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela. I bought this years ago at one of those Borders liquidation sales and have been saving it as a special treasure since then (OK, little digression: does anyone like owning books as much as reading them?!) Once "Madiba" took gravely ill, I vowed to pick it up and had been planning on burrowing in with it over Christmas break in preparation for the film coming out. Upon the news of his passing I knew I couldn't wait any longer, and picked it up last night. Before I knew it I'd read 60 pages. Get this book. Favorite quote so far: “A leader. . .is like a shepherd. He stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind.” 
  • Radical Reconciliation by Curtiss DeYoung and Alan Boesak. I heard DeYoung speak at the Mosaix 2013 conference in November and wanted to learn more from him. In my own journey of learning and practice in the realm of reconciliation in and through the church, this book is proving to be a tremendous and thought-provoking resource. Given that Boesak participated in the anti-apartheid fight, I'm finding some fascinating themes coming together in reading Mandela at the same time. I just finished a section on the story of Zacchaeus from Luke 19 that blew me away. Stretch your heart and mind and pick this up. (P.S. I'm reading this one on my Kindle -- yes, I've caved in to having an e-reader... I cannot deny how convenient it is, and as a person who lives in a condo, I have officially run out of room for more books.) Favorite quote so far: When genuine reconciliation takes place, it brings more than just individual salvation.

Admittedly, this is a rather serious-sounding list. I'm not one who tends to pick up the latest beach read (nothing wrong with that, just not what keeps my attention...) Never fear, I also love my Sunset, Vegetarian Times and New Yorker magazines, and I'm hoping to get the latest Malcolm Gladwell book for Christmas (hint hint). 

As I write this I am looking at the pile of unread books that await me when I finish up these three. How thankful I am that I never tire of having that pile in front of me. As Stephen King said, “Books are a uniquely portable magic.” I have been transformed, transported, and enchanted by reading. Feel free to share what books you are enjoying these days. Onward and upward!

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