One of my absolute favorite things to do is curling up with a good book. Summer offers the perfect opportunity with slower-paced days and inviting, sun-filled spaces. A couple weeks ago Chris and I had the opportunity to get away up north for the opening of a new hotel his boss owns. His time away was spent in a mix of work and leisure; mine had no demands whatsoever. So I read. And read some more. And went out for a walk to explore. And then read some more. I sampled every inviting sitting area to be found both inside the hotel and on the patio overlooking the lake. It was pure bliss. That night, as we stood in the lobby talking with others, of course the most common question that came up again and again was, “So what did you do today?” “I read a book…and it was wonderful.” End of story, no guilt.
I have loved books for as long as I can remember. As a young girl, I think it was one of the ways for me to escape the often-painful reality of my home, and immerse myself in another world. I also know as an introvert, the love of quiet, reflective space is necessary for restoring the energy that gets used up in interactions with others, and reading is perfect for that space. However, in the last few years I’ve come to believe there is an even greater longing at play in my love of reading, and it is connected to the awareness that I am living in a story – a story that is connected all the way back to the beginning of time as God began to write the story of mankind. As I uncover the connections between my own story and the larger redemption story God is writing, I remember hearing how important it is when looking for a good counselor to find one who loves books, an avid reader of stories. That made all the sense in the world to me. In order for someone to help me read my own story or for me to do the same, a love of story is essential.
The book I read on those days away was “Me Before You” by Jojo Moyes. It is one that has been sitting on my bookshelf for a few months. I’ve read others by the same author, so I knew I would love it. But I also knew that once I read it, the pleasure of anticipating its goodness would be over. So I waited for the perfect opportunity. As I progressed through the pages, I began to sense things were not going to go well, this was not going to be a “happily ever after” kind of story. I even asked Chris, (who had picked it up off the shelf while it waited for me) “Am I going to hate the ending of the story?” He thought for a moment and replied, “No.” A few hours and a whole box of tissues later I was tempted to disagree with him. I sent him a message telling him I’d finished and he asked how I was. (I love that he knows how deeply I connect to stories.) My reply was simply “I’m wrecked.” I did hate the ending, and yet, I knew that I would have hated it more if it ended any other way, because I wouldn’t have believed it was real. I wouldn’t have been able to relate to the mix of grief and goodness in my own story if it was all tied up nicely in neat bow.
Shortly after my return home, I received a notification that an e-book I’d been on hold for forever from the library was available, and I had 2 days to claim it before it would be re-released. Still a bit raw from the last story, I hesitantly began “Still Alice” by Lisa Genova, and was quickly hooked. Alice is a woman only a couple years older than me who begins to forget things – yep, I can relate! Only she learns it is much more serious than menopausal lapses in memory; she has early onset Alzheimer’s. By the time I’d finished, I could literally feel the weight in my heart, the result of empathizing and feeling deeply. Chris took one look at me and said, “No more depressing books for you, I think you need something a little lighter!”
I tried reading a happy book; I’ve read many of them over the years. Sadly, most “Christian” or “Inspirational” fiction falls into this category. And I just can’t stomach them anymore because they feel so plastic and fake. Give me a gut-wrenching, well-written story of courage, beauty, triumph, grief, evil and defeat any day, because that feels true. That is my story and, I daresay, yours. My summer reading list is growing, what’s on yours?
Janet Stark is a woman learning to embrace her depth and sensitivity. Inspired by Mary pondering things in her heart, Janet writes about her experiences here. She is grateful for the deep love she shares with her husband of 26 years, as well as her 4 children and 2 grandchildren. She is a life-long lover of words and looks forward to reading and sharing at Red Tent Living.