Folks are leaving town for the holidays, and I am now on holiday as well. And what that means for a blogger like me is that there are two things that are certain. 1) I will probably have time to write a number of posts over the next few days, and 2) most of them will go unread. This is likely one of those times.
For this post, what with the title I’ve chosen, you’re probably wondering what I have up my sleeve. Truth be told, it’s nothing much, except that in a way, it is a confession of sorts. It concerns books, which I know are near and dear to many of our hearts.
Guess how many times I’ve read The Lord of the Rings? Or The Hobbit, Or Orthodoxy, Mere Christianity, and any number of other classics near and dear to Catholics these days?
Once, dear reader. Only once in practically every case. And in many of those cases, say with Tolkiens’ works, the once was long, long ago.
When it comes to books, you see, I’ve been blessed to have had the chance to read many. But I will tell you, and without being shamefaced about it, that usually one time ’round with a book is enough for me.
Oh, now I will go on a jag and read every single scrap ever written by the same author; don’t get me wrong. I’ve bored you to tears here with posts on Thomas Merton’s ouevre, and my buddies in the faith who you see sweeping up the staircase in the banner above (Blaise Pascal, Thomas à Kempis, and John C.H.Wu, for instance). But usually reading a book one time through is enough for me. With one tiny exception, which I will get to later.
There are several factors at play here. The first of these is that God has blessed me with something of a good memory. That is to say, I have the ability to recall details and things after passing by them once, such that a second pass is something of a waste of time. Now, I do not claim to have a photographic memory or anything, but the filing system I’ve been endowed with is in surprisingly good working order, thanks be to God.
Another reason? Well, there simply are too many wonderful things to read out there, that I have never even heard of, that dilly-dallying around reading a favorite of mine a dozen times or so seems a tad pessimistic to me. Especially since, now that I’m a Catholic, there seems to be a veritable bottomless pit of outstanding stuff to read that I have barely even scratched the surface of. I mean, have you read the complete works of Shakespeare yet? All of his plays, and all of his sonnets? I know I haven’t, so I’ve still got a lot of work to do in that department.
Next, there is the fact that I’ve had about all I can take of reading fiction. No, really dear reader. Fiction has it’s strengths, and I do love a good yarn as much as the next guy. But the bottom-line for me is the realization that why we love fiction is practically the same reason we love stories about the zombie apocalypse, and movies. It’s all about escaping reality.
In fiction, see, usually the characters are involved in things that bear no relationship to the real world of paying mortgages, auto insurance premiums, or the telephone bills, you know, all the mundane stuff that Joe and Jane Six-Pack struggle with day in, and day out.
I know my friend Marc Barnes has written about our fascination with zombies recently, but in my opinion the main reason why we are fascinated with that subject is so we can fantasize about throwing the yokes off our backs and really get down to living (even is that means dying as a zombie’s main course). “Finally! I don’t have to go to work today…I just have to find a way to survive in this world that has turned to mush. But thank God the bank is dead!”
“The Kid” just doesn’t realize this yet.
Fiction, see, is about the big picture without all the dross that really is what our lives are encumbered by, and what we tend to obsess about. And let’s not forget that the amount of Catholic fiction left for one to read after you’re done with Tolkien, Chesterton, and O’Conner, is still quite voluminous. The last great piece of fiction I read was not anything new. It was Graham Greene’s story of the whisky priest in The Power and The Glory. And before that? Evelyn Waugh’s Helena.
There is one book, which is basically a library of sorts, that I have always been able to return to over and over again. There’s just something about it. Truth be told, it’s practically the only book that I will ever read aloud to my children from. It’s great for that, what with the short chapters, and poems that are written in such a manner that often times they get right to the heart of the matter while never leaving behind the dross of reality.
Yeah, you guessed it. What can I say? I’m pretty boring. Lots of my favorite stories are included there too. David vs. Goliath, Samson and Delilah, Gideon and his Army, Jonah and the whale. And of course, the story of when God walked the earth, the wonderful things he did, and what we did to him.
So that’s the confession. I lean towards nonfiction, and I usually only read novels once. Confession over.
For those of you who will be on the road and visiting family for Christmas, have safe trips, and make wonderful memories!
I’m going to go have a beer now.