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Thoughts on a Year’s Worth of Reading

Every year about this time, I look back, taking stock of what I’ve accomplished (or not!) throughout the preceding year. One thing I consider is what I’ve read.

I’m a voracious reader and have been since fifth grade, when good ol’ Mrs. George sparked the reader within me, kindled that flame of desire to know, and set me on the Reading Road. Ever since, I’ve tried to keep track of not only how many books I read each year but also what I’ve read. And I hope that all of that reading has, in some way or other, made me a better, more knowledgeable, and wiser person.

Well, looking over this year’s reading list, I notice some things that are no surprise. But I also find some surprises, one in particular.

As usual, most of the 35 books I read (at least that’s how many titles I remembered to record; there might have been others), 17 of them were histories or biographies. Of those 17, many of them were on topics about which I was doing research for my writing of articles and/or books. Seven of the 35 were Bible studies or about personal spiritual growth. Five of them were about the craft of writing, and heaven knows I need continual help in improving my writing. Three other books were on topics that didn’t fit into any of the other major categories. No surprises so far.

The big surprise came when I realized how much fiction I had read this year. Fiction?! Peterson reading fiction?! Isn’t that like cold heat or wet dryness? An oxymoron? A near impossibility? A dream (or nightmare)?

That inconsistency of character prompted me to do a bit of self-analysis! The fictional books I read ranged from “the old masters” (e.g., William Gilmore Simms, a famed Southern writer for all you Yankees) to a couple of modern authors. Their styles and subject matter varied widely. I read one novel in the course of doing some historical research. Another I read because I had won the book at a writer’s conference, sort of necessitating that I read it lest the awarder someday ask me what I thought of the book. The other two I read simply because I liked the author’s writing style (though not some of his content and organizational style). Be those factors what they are, I nonetheless read five fictional book-length works this year! And, for me, that’s a major milestone considering that most years I read none.

But the bigger issue here is what I gained from all those 35 books I read. Did they make any difference in who I am, how I live, or how I go about my work? I’m sure that in some way they did. Perhaps it was only that I learned better what I enjoy or don’t enjoy reading. Or which authors I like or don’t like, agree with or disagree with. Perhaps it was simply the discipline I learned from persevering and stretching myself beyond my comfort zone and venturing deeper (it’s a relative term, I know) into fiction. Or maybe I grew a little more spiritually, something that might be seen only by my Maker. Or others around me?

As I read, I’m always looking for interesting ways of saying things, new words, new combinations of words, new analogies, etc. As I close out this year’s reading (oh, I’m sure I’ll still read a lot more and begin several more books between now and December 31), I’d like to share just a few of the words that struck me (many of them from my more recent reading because I can’t remember too far back!).

“The secret of all good writing: Have something worth saying, and say it simply. Good writing is ‘the natural expression of an organized mind.'” (Inman) “. . . as colorless as a used tea bag.” (Inman) (I especially like that image. It’s almost as good as “He had the personality of a cactus.”) “He could repair anything from a broken heart to the crack of dawn.” (Can’t remember author) “If equal affection cannot be, let the more loving one be me.”(Auden) “Tomorrow is always fresh, with no mistakes in it yet.” (Montgomery) “Beware of forming fanciful theories of your own, and then trying to make the Bible square with them. Beware of making selections from your Bible to suit your taste. . . .” (Ryle) “Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.” (Wilde) “One must be careful of books, and what is inside them, for words have the power to change us.” (Clare)

So here’s to the reading of good books. May next year be filled with many more and better ones. For me and you.

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