Rewarding Reading

In educated circles, we hear a lot of doom and gloom about literacy and literature. When I log on to Amazon or browse through Borders, however, there is no lack of books, new and old, popular and esoteric. I’m more often overwhelmed by the choices than discouraged about the decline of the publishing industry.

So, in the interest of great reading, here are some tips that may help you make rewarding choices this summer.

Permit Yourself

A friend of mine grew up in a home in which readers were considered lazy. Even though she loves to read, it took years to overcome the feeling that reading for pleasure was a waste of time. This may be an extreme case, but we all face competition for our time. Newsletters, journals, and magazines scream at us from the coffee table and kitchen counter that we are falling behind on current events or professional development. Ninety minutes with Jane Austen or Steven King can seem like a luxury to which we are not entitled.

Move Away from the Screens

Most of us are educators and therefore more aware than many of the huge amounts of time wasted by our students in front of televisions, video games, and the internet. Still, I am surprised by the amount of time that I can lose watching late-night re-runs or jumping from link to link on the internet (not to mention the occasional Guitar Hero binge). No matter who is in the room, screen time is not really family time. They won’t miss you if you sit in the next room reading while they watch a bald guy with an earring try to give away a million dollars.

Read Interesting Things

Last year I bought the latest, critically acclaimed translation of Don Quixote, determined to read it through for the first time. About 300 pages in, I felt trapped. Despite the charming and historic qualities of the book, I was losing interest— and I felt guilty. It surely reflects my lack of taste and intelligence to bail out halfway through a masterpiece. We need to remind ourselves that some reading is required. When we read for leisure or for improvement, it’s okay to read books that truly interest us.

Use Your Friends

One of my closest friends is a voracious bookstore browser and reader. He’ll buy anything and try it. So, I often rely on him to steer me to authors and books that I might enjoy. Whether friends or an internet chat room or a book club, spending time with others who love to read is one of the best ways to find the books that we will find most rewarding.

Summer Reading: The Picture of Dorian Gray

Ravi Zacharias once said, “If a storm could be embodied, it would have been embodied in Oscar Wilde.” Born in Dublin in 1854, Wilde was a brilliant writer who defied convention. His turbulent and scandalous life turned heads and raised eye- brows throughout the world. Yet he captured the imaginations of thousands of readers with his penetrating analyses of the human heart.

Of all of Wilde’s famous work, the most brilliant is his only novel The Picture of Dorian Gray. The story revolves around a young man who, upon seeing a portrait of himself, wishes he could trade his youth and beauty for a life of excess and extravagance. In Faustian style, Dorian trades his soul for his youth.

The life of the character Dorian Gray paralleled that of the author. In addition to various addictions, Wilde was most widely known for his openly homosexual relationships. Yet, he was a man in turmoil about his own soul. He once wrote, “Terrible as was what the world did to me, what I did to myself was far more terrible still.”

Wilde and his most famous character demonstrate their relevance to me in the lucid depiction of the human condition plagued by sin. Wilde reminds me that
our souls will not be concealed forever, that every soul has a face. We may escape the physical damages of sin, but we cannot escape its rendering effects on our souls.

It appears, despite a short, intense life of depravity, God used the penetrating questions Wilde raised in Dorian Gray, and he converted to Christianity on his death bed. He penned these words two years before his death in 1900:

And every human heart/that breaks/In prison-cell or yard,/Is as that broken box/that gave/Its treasure to the Lord,/And filled the unclean/leper’s house/With the scent of/costliest nard./Ah! happy day they whose hearts can break/And peace of pardon win!/How else may man make straight his plan/And cleanse his soul from Sin?/How else but through a broken heart/May Lord Christ enter in?