This is reading geek to a new level: Lit! is a Christian guide to reading books. It’s not only relevant to people who read lots, but also people who watch TV dramas and films (which is almost everybody). The foundation is clear right in the first chapter:
“At their best, all other books are but as gold leaf, … but the Bible is solid gold.” So we should “read the imperfect books in light of the perfect Book, the deficient books in light of the sufficient Book, and the temporary books in light of the eternal Book”.
The Book-produced faith in Jesus equips us with discernment, which is the ability to “test everything”, to “hold fast what is good”, and to “abstain from every form of evil” (1 Thess 5:21-22). When you read a book, Christian or non-Christian, fiction or non-fiction, when you watch a film, Disney or Spielberg, do you use your gospel-based discernment to assess it? When a film is beautifully crafted with persuasive story-telling and touching acting, it’s easy to feel sympathetic toward human weakness and sin (e.g. “her husband is really awful and she really loves that guy, why shouldn’t she leave her husband and start a new relationship?”). The silver screen creates images of idols and tempts us to be on the side of men rather than the side of God.
There are three principles to decide what books to avoid, for yourself and for others (your children for example). But it has nothing against non-Christian books – there is a whole chapter titled “Seven Benefits of Reading Non-Christian Books”, with ideas developed from John Calvin directly. It also encourages reading fiction – which I avoided for many years until recently – with a chapter called “Literature is Life – Tapping into the Benefits of Fiction Literature”.
The second part of the book offers practical advice on reading. It talks about how to “squeeze” more time to read more books, but interestingly, it also talks about the pleasure of reading and not worrying about how many pages you “conquered”. It’s a good reminder for me that reading is not for a competition or for showing off.
It agrees with my habit of highlighting and making notes in the books and lays out the benefit of reading something together as a group. The tips for parents to “raise readers” are also inspiring and delightful.
Three memorable things that stand out from the book:
1. Christians are a people of Word not of image. It was right from the beginning that God gave his people Israel his word and commanded them not to worship images of idols. They kept failing. In parallel, Christians struggle to stay away from the images (watching TV, NetFlix, YouTube etc) and to focus on words (reading). The comparison is striking and I never thought of it in that way.
2. In the chapter called “Driven to Distraction – How Internet Habits Cripple Book Reading”, I learnt that Socrates rejected the idea of books because he argued that the reason for writing things down is to forget about them, therefore, it’s bad for your memorising and digesting of the knowledge and turning it into wisdom. Although I had to disagree with him on this point – because the other crucial point of writing books is to record and pass things on – I realised what he said was pretty true. I write a diary every day mostly to allow me to forget about things. My logic is, by clearing my small RAM of trivial everyday details (e.g. lunch appointments, flight details, shopping lists), my brain can run at a higher speed when doing the more difficult thinkings. But the issue is, firstly, I realise more and more acutely that I can’t even answer my colleagues’ question “how was your weekend”; secondly, my thinking is not clearer or faster. I feel like I left half of my brain in my diary (some people would have a page of their diary titled “brain dump”; for this precise reason, I don’t have that page). Lastly, how often do I do difficult thinking?
I remember when I was very little, my dad taught me with an amazing foresight that “in this age (this was before the popularity of computers and the internet), you don’t need to remember information anymore, you just need to remember which book the information is from”. Now when I ask my husband a question (“what is a mile to a kilometre?”), he would Google immediately and it’s unlikely either of us will remember the exact answer next day. Information (“what time does ASDA close today?”) and knowledge (“Why are there so many accents in the UK when it’s such a small country?”) get all mixed-up. It does make me think.
3. The third thing is the comparison between reading a physical book and reading on an electronic device. I have tried Kindle but I came back to physical books afterwards. I couldn’t quite pin down the reason for preferring physical books. The author gives some reasons and they make sense. Although I feel like there must be more to it.