When Nana comes to town we get books.
Books, book, books everywhere. She bought a novel in the airport for the kids. She spent the first couple days of her visit reading it herself, but now it is added to our collection. Along with the two other novels she purchased for the kids at the bookstore yesterday and the novel she purchased for me. There is a new picture book in the house too—did you know that Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, the author of The Yearling, also wrote a children’s book? Well she did. Now we have it. It’s called The Secret River. Beautiful pictures.
My mom and I talked last night. I asked her to tell me about her parents, my Granny and Grandpa. I grew up on the opposite side of the country from them. I have few memories. What was their marriage like? What were their personalities? What was her relationship with each of them like? What did she learn from them?
One thing my mom learned was to read. She watched her own mother, my Granny, read and read and read. She taught school during the day and she came home and read. The maid cleaned the house and made all but Sunday dinner. Granny was busy reading.
And the kids became readers too. My mom, her three siblings—they all read and read, nestled in the nooks and crannies of the house, tucked in the cavernous window sills for hours as they escaped the world through the written word. They read and then read some more.
Sometimes a good thing is not always a good thing when it keeps us from the better things.
I have always loved to read—no doubt due to my mom’s influence. Just like Granny, my strongest image of mom is curled up in a chair with a book. She read to me through my childhood and adolescence. We read Winterdance by Gary Paulsen and laughed until we cried. We read Shakespeare out loud when I told her it was too hard to understand in my head. I’ve never known my mom to walk into a bookstore and walk out without a handful of new treasures. Going to the library when I was a kid was a favorite outing.
I never thought my mom was trying to escape from me or from life with her reading. I am grateful that even though I always knew she loved reading, (Never leave home without a book, she taught me—you just never know) I never felt like she loved reading more than me. I never felt like I played second fiddle to a hardcover and a stranger’s story.
But it’s true that anything, good or bad, can turn into a stumbling block. A stumbling block to Christ, a stumbling block to relationships, a stumbling block to health. I don't know anyone who thinks reading is a dangerous hobby to pursue, but when reading interrupts families or school, when reading is a retreat into a hidden world because the hiding feels safer than reality, we need to put the book down and enter back into life.
I think about these things as I watch my kids become readers. As I continue my lifelong love of books, of learning, of stretching myself to explore new thoughts that originated in someone else’s mind. I think about these things as I remember to put down my novel and pick up my Bible because that is the only thing I read that gives life and is always true. I think about these things as I read to my kids increasingly complex stories beyond princesses and superheroes to real life dragons and broken things that make us hurt and question and cry.
I love to read. I love to read to my kids. I love to watch my kids read. This week I am reminded that reading is good. But always, Christ is better. Life is better. Love is better. These are not mutually exclusive things, but lest I ever get my priorities out of whack, I will remember there is only one book whose words I cannot live without.