There were hundreds of books, and as always, the stakes were high. But you can’t think about it that way. Who wants to remember that every single time you read a book, you–and the world–change?
Choosing a book is like choosing anything these days. There are uncountable choices, and we are given that crazy human imperative that’s the crux of the whole enterprise: to narrow, weigh, and choose. Twenty four hours in each day, consciously handling 40 bits of information per second (out of 11,000,000, so says Timothy Wilson in Strangers To Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious), trying to determine what’s best in this absolute dynamo of a life we’re in. We stand in front of the day like a browser in a bookstore; which stacks to go to? Which authors? Which titles? Where to get direction? What if we pick the wrong section? What if we get lost in the store? What if the clerks are jerks and think we’re stupid, or worse, out of touch, because we request that book?
And then that searing thought…what does God want me to read? Lots of people have strong answers for that and since the world is ending tomorrow, I thought maybe a religious title would be in order. There was my old friend Max Lucado (well, old acquaintance) smiling at me, and Jeffrey Overstreet’s books are there (made me smile), and maybe I should get some evangelical fiction (I’ve never actually bought a book from that section) so I’ll feel better about things. N.T. Wright interests me (the C.S. Lewis of our day, some say). I picked up a copy of Genesis from the Jewish publishing world, a Kabbalah oriented version, thought about it, put it back. I’ve got eighteen Bibles already, and while there are at least hundred titles explaining quite clearly how to get the JOY! I still wonder about on a daily basis, none of them have convincing enough covers. I looked over a couple of eastern religion titles (don’t remember them now, though one had to do with zen and dogs), but thought no, not right now.
Gift cards always make me think “Art book”, but the only one I saw that interested me was an eighty-five dollar book on new sculpture. (The one picture I saw in it was a five foot wide tongue sticking out of a massive blood red wall.) I wandered up and down the sale aisles, the pressure growing, astonished at how many books I’m not going to read. There are zillions in which I just have no interest. There are whole sections I will never venture into, and yet there they are, waiting for those who are fascinated by and committed to the worlds they contain, though I’ve never seen anyone standing over there browsing.
Graphic novel? Almost went to the cashier with one; I put it back. Avoided the DVD’s, though House and Friday Night Lights flitted through my brain. Remembering pleasant younger days of reading, I wandered to the science fiction/fantasy, and again, started downstairs with a title in my hand, then turned around and put it back. A new journal? Soduko puzzles? Goodness gracious, a theatre book? A book on writing? Some more poetry?
Good grief. C’mon, what am I here for?
Start with the basics. Fiction or non-fiction? Issues-related books (I do need to be changing the world, after all), but if I go that way, I have to pick an issue. Civil War? Got lots of those just now. Half the Sky? Half the Sky is a book (and a movement, looks like) on changing the world through empowering women economically, thereby pushing back on all the truly awful ways they’re oppressed in the world. It got several votes on my Facebook inquiry post (“What book should I get with my gift card?”–I thought it was worth asking), and frankly, now I’m dealing with a bit of guilt that I didn’t pick it. The non-fiction book of choice came from another FB post-er, a slim little volume about change, which is one of the dominant themes in the hamster wheel that is my brain. Looking it over last night from the safety of my just-before-sleep perch, I’m not thrilled with the choice, but perhaps it will be helpful.
I’ll bet I circle back around to Half the Sky.
I also landed on a couple of fiction titles, one recommended and one that just intuitively looked good. What I know is that I need to reboot my reading, especially as a story-teller. When I reported back to the Facebook world my acquisitions, a couple of folks applauded my choice of People of the Book. Maybe that one’s a winner.
Hundreds of choices, and the course of my life shifts a bit with each one. Which is why I often speak a little prayer under my breath as I browse the stacks. “Lead me to a good one.”
It’s hardly a prayer at all, but I still toss it out there; and I’m serious about it. The “lead me just now” prayer comes in handy in all kinds of choosing moments.
Choosing books, choosing moments, choosing lives, and mundane little prayers under the breath for guidance.
We’ll see if God cared enough about my reading to answer me this time.
Maybe He’s still working on it…