I was asked the other day to contribute a piece on the five books that have changed my life. What the request was after, according to the blurb, was the list of books that have influenced me most, changed the way I live, taught me most about Jesus etc. etc.
I haven’t yet replied because I’m not sure I read books the way they imagine. The bible is specifically excluded, but actually it’s a good example for me of my difficulty. I don’t read the bible and remember chapter and verse. I haven’t bookmarked it, learned chunks, stored away useful passages or anything like that. I tend to think differently about the book and the way it works.
It’s similar with the films I watch. My wife will remember characters names, actors, even film titles years after we’ve seen them. She’s my own personal, walking, talking IMDB. As for me, even in the middle of a film I’ll be completely unaware of the lead character’s name.
What I will notice are movements of plot and themes, but I’m hopeless at the other stuff. Is it just me?
Books are the same. I rarely remember the title or author of books I have read. But I will recall, in some detail, the impression it left on me, how it moved me or challenged me. I can describe the book in colour, but I can’t give you the black and white detail. (Maybe it’s just a sign of getting old!)
I find I absorb a book rather than read it.
I once heard Eugene Peterson say about the Book of Ecclesiastes that it is written for those who find themselves disappointed with life. But the way it works is not to say to such an individual ‘Go and read Ecclesiastes and you’ll be alright!’, but it might be, ‘Go and read Ecclesiastes for 10 years and you’ll be alright’. By this method the book becomes part of your thinking and practice, the way you view the world. Very different from the proof-texting approach.
In his second volume on spiritual theology, ‘Eat This Book’ Peterson uses a startling image, taken from the book of Revelation. When John seeks to write down what the great world-straddling angel is preaching he is instead instructed not to write but to ‘eat the scroll’. Like the food we eat then which in time becomes part of sinew and bone so too the scriptures must be metabolised in us, to become part of the sinew and bone of our spiritual lives. In this way we live in the book so that it takes life in us. Metabolising a book is a great image I think.
I’m going to think about the five books, maybe even blog a bit, but I’m not sure the list and explanations will be usable for the one who asked.