I don’t want this journal to turn into a pseudo-list: in other words, just because it’s an online journal I don’t want to waste time trying to make my reading list look more impressive or “academic” than it is. In truth, I do a lot of reading, and not all of it is “big and important” (whatever that means!) -- at least by the world’s standards.
So what have I been reading this week? Well, a lot of Robert McCloskey. Yes, that’s right, Robert McCloskey, author of Make Way for Ducklings and Blueberries for Sal, both of which I’ve read numerous times in the past several days. McCloskey wrote and illustrated children’s books in the 1940s and 1950s, wonderful books that have stood the test of time and still delight both me and my three year old. I’ve been thoroughly enjoying the whimsy of reading (or quacking!) out the ducklings’ names: Jack, Kack, Lack, Mack, Nack, Ouack, Pack and Quack, and of course I also love the chance to do the sounds of the blueberries hitting little Sal’s tin pail: Kerplink, Kerplank, Kerplunk. There’s something deeply satisfying about these stories, especially the terrific symmetry of the adventures of the mother/little child and mother bear/little bear in Blueberries for Sal.
I want to reflect from time to time on reading I’m doing with my daughter, because frankly it makes up a good portion of this season of my life! Part of the reason I began this journal was to get myself in the habit of reflecting on what I’m actually reading from day to day, whatever that might be. In the process, I may learn more about my own reading habits, and of course I may need to decide somewhere down the road that it would be a good idea to shape my reading habits differently. In general, I don’t set reading plans, in part because I’ve always had what I describe as a “popcorn mind.” One idea puts another idea into my head, and then another comes and then another… pop pop pop! My reading seasons tend to go the same way. I begin to read something and find that I feel passionate about what I’m reading – the form, the content, the author, the themes – and I begin to read other things that connect to it in some way. So you may notice where I go through times where I read heavily from and about one or more authors (Austen and Lewis at the moment, who tend to cycle back around pretty often). I don’t always do this consciously, but when I look back I can see what or who shaped a particular reading season.
One exception to my popcorn pattern is my more intentional spiritual reading. I don’t mean that I haven’t been spiritually formed by reading I’ve done spontaneously. I believe that the Holy Spirit sometimes moves me to read things that I didn’t consciously plan to be reading. One example I shared not long ago was how the Lord led me to the Amy Carmichael meditations that I didn’t even realize were on my shelves. Those are providing much food for my heart, but I certainly didn’t plan to read them right now.
But at least with my Scripture reading, I try to be more disciplined…though I often fail. I have not been good about reading through the daily lectionary lately, but it’s there for me like a scaffolding and I can return to that pattern. Sometimes I choose a certain book of the Bible – at the moment, it’s 2 Corinthians – and try to read through it a little bit each day, often trying a chapter per day, but not allowing myself to get hung up if I end up reading a little less or more.
I guess you could say there are several distinct kinds of reading I find myself doing these days:
Other spiritual reading
Reading to my daughter
Informational reading (news/articles)
“Literary reading” is a kind of catch-all category. It doesn’t necessarily mean great or classic literature (though it can). It can also overlap with spiritual reading. In fact, most of these categories overlap in some way, in part because I find myself making connections or finding insights in one area based on reading and reflecting in another area. And all of these kinds of reading, with the possible exception of the last, is reading that feeds my “story-hunger” -- hunger for stories that reflect the Great Story found in the Scriptures.
My three and a half year old has a pretty insatiable story hunger of her own (I think she was born with it, but I’m sure we’ve fueled it too!). It would be silly and dishonest for me never to reflect in my journal about the books I’m reading with and to her, not only because they’re a big part of my diet, but because they’re good literature. I know for a fact that my own reading and writing have been shaped by the children’s literature I’ve been blessed to read since she was born. In fact, I have begun to write more stories and poems with children in mind, and I’m finding that I love this kind of work.