It’s summer, a time when most preachers are lucky enough to enjoy an extended Sabbath. For me, summer affords the opportunity to do the kind of reading I know I need to do but am not able to get to in the midst of the normal schedule. I save major works to take with me on summer vacation.
My interest in books leads to odd behavior sometimes: checking out the content of the bookshelves when I am visiting someone’s home or a colleague’s study, sneaking a look at whatever my airplane seatmate is reading, poring over the list of ingredients on a cereal box when there is nothing else at hand to read.
Americans who don’t vote might consider their voter’s registration card expendable. And some might say that the resources of a public library are expendable too.But when something is taken from us, we realize its value. That’s what happened in Salinas, California, when word leaked out that budget cuts were forcing the city to shut down its public libraries.
For several weeks I’ve toted around Bruce Chatwin’s book The Songlines, on the off chance of having more time for it. Before he died at 48, Chatwin wrote a handful of brilliant travel books, this perhaps the most brilliant—a funny and fascinating account of the Aboriginal songlines. Invisible to Western eyes, the songlines crisscross Australia, charting every rock and hollow.
This issue’s emphasis on books exemplifies one of the things I have most liked about the Christian Century over the years: it has helped me to decide what books to purchase and read. I’m still relying on it to do that. For example, I’d like to read all eight recommendations in the field of New Testament.
Martin Marty once noted that there comes a time when you confront the depressing reality that you’re probably not going to read all the books you hoped and planned to read. Your stack of books-to-be-read will outlast you.
There are some of us who read more than we pray. We know we should pray more. We mean to pray more. But something happens to us when we read that does not happen when we pray. We find our lives by losing them. We enter into communion with people whom we have never met, some of whom never existed in the world we call real.
A stretch of two weeks at the beach allows me to do something I’ve never able to manage during the working year: read more than one book at a time—maybe six or seven—and experience the literary and intellectual synergy that results. This year I found myself reading, more or less at the same time: