A Few Good Books

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In our wildest fantasies, we might dare to dream that one day something we have written will win a major literary prize.
Then again, we wouldn’t necessarily call all of our friends if word came down that we had won the annual Bookseller / Diagram Prize.  Since 1978 the BDP has been awarded to the oddest book title of the year.  Here are some past winners:
The Joy of Chickens (1980)
Highlights in the History of Concrete (1994)
Reusing Old Graves: A Report on Popular British Attitudes (1995)
People Who Don’t Know They’re Dead: How They Attach Themselves to Unsuspecting Bystanders and What to Do About It (2005)
Managing a Dental Practice: The Genghis Khan Way (2010)
The Dirt Hole and Its Variations (2019)
Then there’s the most recent champion, winner of the 2021 Bookseller / Diagram Prize:  Is Superman Circumcised?  The author, Roy Schwartz, describes his book as a study of the Jewish origins of the Man of Steel.
Perhaps before we try to craft our own literary masterpieces, however they might be titled, we should invest in one of the most time-honored of all summer pastimes: reading a few books.  There are plenty of candidates.  According to Bowker’s Books in Print, there were 2,714,409 new books published in the English language in 2015 alone.  If those metrics are still valid, some 7,437 new books in our native tongue will hit the market today – and the same number again every day this week. 
We’ll have to accelerate our current pace of reading if we hope to keep up.  Americans typically read four books a year. 
How about challenging yourself to go above and beyond by reading four good books between now and Labor Day? 

What’s a “good” book?  It’s any volume, fiction or non-fiction, that makes you think – that opens your heart more dynamically to the way the world really is.  Here are a few options to consider:

Dive into a book that you already own but have never gotten around to reading.

Read a compelling biography. We’re living during the renaissance of writing about America’s Founders.  Explore the life of Alexander Hamilton, George Washington, or John Adams.  Biographies – the life stories of remarkable individuals like Charlemagne, St. Francis of Assisi, Dorothy Day, and Frederick Douglass – compel us to think about how we are living our own lives.

Read a book that you can polish off in a weekend.  That will give you hope.  Or read a book about science.  It’s never too late to learn how DNA and photosynthesis work.

If you’re a Catholic, read about a great Protestant preacher or missionary.  If you’re a Protestant, read about one of the great Catholic contemplatives or social activists. 

Read a book that is more than 100 years old, or a novel that is longer than 500 pages.  

Read a book about how to live an authentic spiritual life in an age that wonders if God is real.

Read one of those “great books” that you had to know something about to pass high school English (and for which Cliff’s Notes came in handy at test time).  See what all the excitement was about.  You might devote yourself to reading something by John Steinbeck, Jane Austen, C.S. Lewis, Charlotte Bronte, or Fyodor Dostoevsky. 

Read a book by an author you’ll probably disagree with.  Don’t be afraid.  Try something new.  We all need to confront the reality of Confirmation Bias in our own lives, the tendency to listen only to the voices of those whom we know will reinforce our current opinions.

And finally, the most important suggestion of all:

Commit yourself to reading Scripture this summer.  Don’t settle for secondhand ideas about God.

You don’t have to read the entire Bible to be transformed by what you find there.  So where’s a good place to jump in?

Try the four biographies of Jesus, which are known as the Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.  Together they account for 89 chapters.  If you begin today and read a chapter every 24 hours, you’ll arrive at September 10 having experienced for yourself the Bible’s fourfold Story that Christians have pondered for the past 20 centuries. 

“You shall know the truth,” Jesus said, “and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:32)

There’s a world of difference between gathering facts and learning the truth. 
Google is miraculous.  Facts are good things to have in hand.  But mere information is no substitute for engaging the minds and hearts of authors who have walked the trail before us, and who are willing to show us, slowly and patiently, where the handholds and footholds can be found on the path to wisdom. 
The Joy of Chickens may not offer much in the way of spiritual transformation.
But whenever we encounter God’s Word – when we read it, ponder it, debate it, chew on it, think about it, and even dare to apply it bravely to our own lives – God’s truth will begin to set us free.