When I went to work at Central Carolina in 2002, I overheard a short conversation I’ve never forgotten. It was during that welcome back/orientation/registration period when faculty were freer to talk and exchange ideas.
“So what’d you do this summer?” one co-worker asked another.
“I read twenty-three books, give or take,” she said.
I turned around to get a good look at the speaker, knowing she was someone I wanted to get to know. Since that day nearly eighteen years ago, I’ve tried to meet that quota. It hasn’t happened—probably never will. BUT I’ve read more books this summer than anytime in my life, and I give COVID19, my reader friend, and Stephen King the credit. Interestingly, every book is somehow linked to the others.
“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” Stephen King
A neighbor introduced me to the work of Chaim Potok a year ago, and The Chosen, the first of his novels I read, led me to more of his work and to other Jewish literature, including nonfiction. This afternoon I dipped into Good Book by David Plotz, a book described as being an “irreverent, enthralling journey through the world’s most important work of literature.” Earlier this summer, I read a novel based on a Jewish family who survived the Holocaust, We Were the Lucky Ones. Confession: I busted out with strong emotion during a passage toward the end. It’s rare for me to get choked up while reading
Last month, someone recommended Sue Monk Kidd’s The Book of Longing, and I promptly ordered it for my Kindle. Amazing writing. We all know who Jesus is and how He died, but that doesn’t take away from the story and its thrall. In the novel, He marries Ana, a young woman who must flee to Egypt with her aunt, and the reader knows that Christ’s mission has begun. While in Alexandria, Ana’s life is, um, sheltered and precarious at the same time. Curious and clever, she is quite the scholar, unusual and dangerous in her world. She has a voice and uses it to write her ideas and longings.
I’m well aware that there’s no mention of Christ being married in the Bible. But my purpose isn’t to argue about that. No one can win that discussion.
The book’s nature is informative and fascinating. It’s a story, several actually, that totally immerses the reader in the time and place of its occurrence. I’d never considered how hard Jesus’s family’s life must have been; how the Passover scene sounded, looked, and smelled; how dusty the road to Calvary was; and the dis-ease caused by occupation of the Romans. I knew these things, but Kidd’s thorough research and narrative style helped me feel present in the life and times of Jesus.
Reading Longings led me to The Dance of the Dissident Daughter, another of Monk’s works, this one nonfiction. Much of it was beyond my current scope of knowledge and understanding, but I could feel everything she wrote. Patriarchy is alive and well in all religions that I’m familiar with, and yet it’s something I’ve never questioned. Kidd’s words forced me to examine my beliefs and ideas, not only in religion but also in other elements of society.
When my daughters were in elementary school, one of them had a male teacher, the only one in the school. Why? A sociology text hinted that teachers were like mommies away from home, there to clean noses and dry tears, something that women were coded to do. More males began to appear in elementary schools, and more females began popping up in places from which they had previously been excluded, like government, medicine, and law.
Last week, I was introduced to the work of Terry Tempest Williams, a writer, activist, naturalist, and environmentalist from Utah whose writing touched my soul. I just finished When Women Were Birds and am working on Refuge. Both books are about finding one’s voice and the myriad connections between the natural world and its people. She was raised in the Latter-Day Saint culture, something that makes her writing even more interesting, profound, and personal.
Some seeds have been planted in all that reading, y’all. Remembering my friend’s twenty-three books and King’s advice pushed me to do more reading during the summer of Corona, an action that will hopefully motivate my muse mojo.