Monday, February 18, 2013

Ruined by Reading

Just finished an absolute gem of a book. Ruined by Reading: A Life in Books, by Lynne Sharon Schwartz, is a memoir about how her life was affected by books and reading. It may seem silly to so enjoy a book that is about reading, but to hear your own thoughts and feelings on a subject you so dearly love written by a woman who was born at the onset of WWII - 40 years before you - is the ultimate "I'm not alone!" feeling. (Of course, my book buddies are good for this too ;) 

Schwartz talks about her avid readership starting at age 3. She found much of her thoughts and wonders about herself and life confirmed through stories she encountered. Books taught her lessons and one she points out in this memoir I can relate to...Passion. And I don't mean passion as in a love of something, but passion as in exploding and freaking out about stuff. Not only can I relate to it, but it is a current revelation in my personal life. I've been reading books on the topic, trying to make changes in myself for about four months. In her favorite childhood book, The Little Princess (Frances Hodgson Burnett, 1905. You may better recognize her book The Secret Garden), the main character Sara is thrust into many situations with a loud and intimidating adult. Being a child there isn't much she can do, but even with feelings bouncing inside, this is the wisdom the character Sara imparts to the reader:

          "I don't answer very often. I never answer when I can help it. When people are 
          insulting you, there is nothing so good for them as not to say a word - just look at 
          them and think...When you will not fly into a passion people know you are stronger 
          than they are, because you are strong enough to hold in your rage...There's nothing 
          so strong as rage except what makes you hold it in - that's stronger" (49).

Talking about how reading this affected her, Schwartz relates her personal experience: "I heard a great deal of rage - vocal and terrifying - when I was small; in a way my household was not what I could call ordinary. And I thought rage must be powerful. It was certainly loud. I have spent the rest of my life learning that loudness is not a show of strength, and that the spirit is kept alive by trust in the inner voice and by holding firmly to the unnamed thing that Sara found at age eleven: the stronger thing that makes you hold rage in" (49-50).

I am awed. I've read two most helpful books by author Lysa TerKeurst in the past couple weeks. One, titled Unglued, is on this idea of flying into a passion - she calls it exploding or stuffing, depending on which you do. The other book, Capture His Heart, is about how to be a better wife, and no, it's nothing insulting to women, just really good pointers on all of the topics of marriage and what makes men tick. Page after page of these two books hit me, as if I were being painted on the page...I half expected to see my name in the dedication! Before this I had read Give Them Grace about raising kids. And then I pick up Schwartz's book and see not only how others have been personally affected by reading, but also that the very example she uses from a book affects me so personally too? It reaffirms my belief in books.

And on another note, Schwartz and I share a common memory problem, which she discusses in her memoir. Neither of us can remember what we read last week in any amount of worthwhile detail. I've always lamented this. Schwartz thinks through the reasoning of reading in light of this fact. If reading is not the main transformation of life (after all characters can be pretty messed up people), and not the amassing of knowledge (because she forgets the details of content soon after), and not to pass time (there are so many ways to do that more actively/quickly), then reading has to be for the opposite live and be still in the moment. 

She describes it as "unlike other classic activities of the reading, the body is still. Indeed what reading teaches, first and foremost, is how to sit still for long periods and confront time head-on. The dynamism is all inside, an exalted, spiritual exercise so utterly engaging that we forget time and mortality along with all of life's lesser woes, and simply bask in the everlasting present. So I see, finally, why it hardly matters whether I remember the contents of a book. Mere information is nothing compared to this silent flurry" (115-116).

Yes! This may seem off topic, but it is the connection I make to this quote. I am able to talk and listen to someone with my utmost attention for hours at a time...and I don't mean just on the topic of books, but life in general. I can become utterly engaged in conversations, asking questions and talking through possibilities. The discussion continues in my head long after and I usually end up with more to discuss on the topic. I am living that present moment and making the most of it...sometimes trying to understand or grasp something just out of reach. Over the few years I've realized this about myself, I've found few people, even fewer friends for that matter, able to deal and/or keep up with this side of me. Mostly, I get the smile and nod or change of subject because people want to take it easy, which I can understand. However, there have been a couple friends/family who accused me of being difficult and needy. I took this very hard the first time it was said because the people saying it were not shallow, whatever types of people. I really thought it through and took a good look around me. If it was truth, I didn't want that to be how people saw me. I started asking other people if this was how they saw me and having now found a set a friends who can sit with me for hours and talk and care, I know that this not a problem I have to fix. Maybe just a quirk I have to curb around certain types of people or in certain situations. When I have a problem, or just something to talk about, I know these friends are there and will truly listen, help, and check in with me.

As for the rest of the connection to the above quote, want to know what is amusing about this set of friends? It's a small group and they are all so very different in many ways, but have one thing in common. They're readers.

How does reading contribute to your life? Any great connections you've made with a book lately?

1 comment:

  1. Had to add this last quote, kind of a repeat of the last one I discussed:

    "Reading teaches us receptivity....It teaches us to receive, in stillness and attentiveness, a voice possessed temporarily, on loan....And as we grow accustomed to receiving books in stillness and attentiveness, so we can grow to receive the world, also possessed temporarily." Lynne Sharon Schwartz