Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The World of Books




In the same year that I discovered the treasures of the school library, my parents began reading the Narnia series to me (and my brothers) at bedtime. At the tender age of seven, I was hooked – on Narnia of course – and on reading. I began to devour books at every spare moment. My mother shook her head when my report card came home: “Jenny’s spelling needs improvement. She should read more.” Rather than reading more, Mum was encouraging me to read less. I had a quota – I was only allowed to read one (chapter book) a day.

 I’m still hooked on reading as the piles of books on my floor waiting to find some non-existent bookshelf space attest. I am sure many of you can tell similar childhood stories of finding the enchantment and joy of reading. Books while away a dull hour while we wait at bus stops and airports, comfort us when we are too sick to do anything else, provide escape from the stresses and boredom of our ordinary lives. Books transport us to other worlds; reaching across far flung distances and centuries or maybe just the suburb next door. They reveal fascinating facts and magnificent settings, unveil the mysteries of other cultures and mindsets, give us insight into other people lives and motivations, take us to the heights and the depths of human emotion, help us to confront our fears and challenge us to be better, to do better in our lives. There are many other ways to learn – going out and doing, connecting with people, engaging with other media, spiritual disciplines  – but for me a life without books is hard to imagine.

From wisdom of the Scriptures to the avalanche of other books I have read over the decades, books have sculptured my thoughts, led me to new insights and directed me down different paths. And this is as true for the fiction that I’ve read – and yes, even fantasy –  as of the more serious, non-fiction tomes. From C S Lewis’ Narnia series, I learnt the meaning of forgiveness and the beauty, gentleness and untamability of God. Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans resonated with my own feelings of isolation in my highly mobile childhood. Patricia St John’s Treasures of the Snow and particularly a Tangled Woods’ Secret taught me to rely on God’s grace and power. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings spoke of the courage of ordinary people doing great things in the face of impossible odds. It exposed how the lure of power can twist even those who desire to do good. One book (whose title and author I have sadly forgotten) helped me understand that my perceptions of people can often be a projection of my own insecurities. Elliot’s Middlemarch portrayed the unfairness and destructive nature of gossip. Austen’s Mansfield Park intimated that character is more important than beauty and poise even in romantic love. Lee’s To Kill a Mocking Bird and Griffin’s Black Like Me exposed the brutality and arbitrariness of racism. I could go on – Little's Jungle Doctor TalesCoolidge’s What Katy Did, Tolstoy’s War and Peace, Lewis’ Screwtape Letters and too many others to name or even recall.

It is this legacy of reading that inspires my own desire to write stories that inspire and challenge – as signposts to God’s love and forgiveness – through well crafted and inspired story telling. And the writers who have moved me along my journey are my role models – from the unforgettable stories of Old and New Testaments and the parables of Jesus to the winsome tales of Lewis, Tolkien, St John and company.  


How about you – what books have inspired you and, if you are writer, which ones do you wish to emulate?

Jeanette O’Hagan

Jeanette lives in Brisbane, has practiced medicine, taught theology, spoken at various groups & is currently caring for her children, studying writing at Swinburne & writing her Akrad series.

12 comments:

  1. Hi Jenny - Thanks for that. I certainly agree that a life without books is hard to imagine. I especially love books that show me something I hadn't known before or prompt me to think differently about something. "To Kill a Mockingbird" is my all-time favourite and the kind of book I would most like to write. (Oh well, nothing like starting at the top!). It is such a brilliant book about the outcomes of prejudice. "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society" showed me how to write about a difficult circumstance (the occupation of Guernsey during WWII) with humour and warmth. "The Light Between Oceans" showed me that some moral issues cannot always be easily divided into black and white. "The Rosie Project" convicted me about not judging those who are different from us (though I could have done without the swearing). "Book of Dreams" by Davis Bunn encouraged me to keep stepping out in what God wants me to do even though that can be difficult. Alexander McCall Smith's wonderful "No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency" series shows that there is a better, kinder way of approaching life. There are so many more I could name. Books really can make a positive difference in people's lives and that's a great encouragement as a writer. God Bless.

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    1. Thanks Nola. Yes, if I mentioned all the books that have impacted on me I'd probably need to write a book to fit them all in - a big one. I love the books you mention and have a few of them on my "to-read" list. God bless.

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  2. Hi Jenny,
    Thanks for sharing your adventures in reading. Very interesting post so well done! I have to agree with you - there's nothing like getting lost in the world of books is there? My parents both were voracious readers - so all 7 children followed suit. My husband reads widely and so does my son. So we continue to READ! I have to say that reading opens up new worlds for us doesn't it? I won't begin to name them since time is scarce. But I do thank God for books and the doorway it opened into an amazing life! Thanks for sharing,
    Anusha

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    1. Thanks Anusha. Your family (and mine) remind me of this quote from Emilie Buchwald "Children are made readers on the laps of their parents." And it is precious passion to pass on. After all God decided to reveal himself in a Book as well as though his Son. I think He likes good books :)

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  3. Hi Jenny,
    Yes... books... the more the better. My daughter used to read lots, my husband never has (prefers audio avenue), my son and I continue to buy and devour.
    Books hold a boon of knowledge, reflection, wisdom and pleasure, but... do they crowd out the Word of God? It's easily done.
    Recently, my eyes fell on a portion of Scripture that really jumped out at me: 'Incline my heart to Your testimonies, and not to covetousness. TURN AWAY MY EYES FROM LOOKING AT WORTHLESS THINGS, and revive me in Your way.' (Ps. 119:36-37, NKJV). It made me think. Covetousness can include a lot of things, even books:) And I wonder what God would include in the 'worthless' category?
    Hmm... food for thought. Thanks for your post, Jenny.

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    1. Hi Magaret
      Thanks for the reminder to keep things in perspective - of course books on their own can't save us and we need to give them their proper place. And as wonderful as they are, not all books are helpful. Yet God has chosen to reveal Himself through His Son - but also through a Book and through the Story of His redeeming love for his people and His desire to draw people to Him. Just as He wants us to sing "a new song" of praise to him each day, so I think he wants us to tell (and read) new stories that connect with people's lives and minds.

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  4. As he old saying goes, if we found ourselves on a deserted island and only had three choices, what books would we choose?
    The Bible of course. BUT which other two...oh, impossible choice.
    I devour them and like you,love a variety of genres.

    Yes they do have the power to shape our lives. We identify with our heroes and heroines. And rejoice when good overcomes evil. Jesus used the power of a story to illustrate His wonderful truths. So we're in good company.

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    1. That's so true Rita. I love the way Jesus tells stories - often about such down to earth, everyday things - yet they challenge and inspire.

      As for only choosing three books - impossible indeed. The Bible yes - but only two others? Though thankfully the Lord of the Rings classifies as one book (not three). Maybe we could just bring our fully loaded kindle (and batteries of course).

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  5. Around the age of nine, I discovered L M Montgomery's 'Anne' books, 'What Katy Did' and the others in that series and 'Little Women' and the others that followed it. To this day, I still strongly identify with Jo, the writer in the March family! All of these and many others inspired me. As to emulating any author, I can't think of one in particular, but I do admire the writings of Dorothy Sayers, Elizabeth Goudge and Madeleine L'Engle--all very old-fashioned authors now!

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  6. Hi Jo-Anne, I loved those books too and identified with Jo in Little Women. I have had even more pleasure reading them to my daughter - and even my 7 year old occasionally wants me to read Anne of Green Gables! And isn't Dorothy Sayers a great author - she was something of a theologian as well. I think for me C S Lewis - with his fantasy fiction, his ability to explain theology clearly and his great apologetics is definitely a role model. I love the way the gospel shines through his fiction.

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  7. I'm amused that teachers think reading makes for a good speller. I've always read heaps but it was writing that improved my spelling much more than reading ever did. When I read I look at the shape of a word rather than all the letters, it is quicker that way.

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    1. Hi Susan, I think you are right - fast readers look at the word shape rather than the individual letters. Writing - and the spell checker - has definitely improved my spelling over the years though it still can be a challenge at times.

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