In this third installment of our series for Living a Different Life, we’re diving into one of my favorite topics: literature. Good literature stretches our brains and makes us look at the world in a new way. It’s one of the best ways to opt-out of our instant-gratification culture and strengthen our concentration. Best thing is . . . there’s something for everyone!
[Scroll down for an orchid update and to link to the whole series!]
Not all books are created equal! Just like art, we need to be on the watch for the things Paul encourages the Philippians to focus on:
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy –think about such things. (Philippians 4:8).
And also like art, this is a HUGE topic. I could go on and on all day expounding the virtues of good literature, how to define it, and why we need more gifted writers. But . . . for this one little article, I want to focus on using literature as a counter-balance to our junk reading culture.
My Cautionary Tale Began
I’ve always been an avid reader. In fact, my degree is in English Literature, and I loved every moment in college. I could have stayed there all my life! Once I graduated, I fostered my love of literature and worked to pass it along to my children.
Now fast forward to about five years ago. I started a business that needed Facebook support, and I got sucked into social media! The Lord had some boundary issues to teach me during that time, but a side casualty was my ability to read well. I knew reading strength (length of concentration and comprehension abilities) could be developed and improved with practice, but I was slow to realize that it can also be lost.
During my Facebook phase, I had been reading a few sentences at a time and then scrolling. Every once in a while, I would read a short paragraph or article, get my fix of quick information, and then scroll again. Writing for social media is intentionally short and easy because writers know they only have seconds to grab your attention and express their thoughts.
It’s not just Facebook: Television shows are broken up by commercials. Commercials are only 15, 30 or 60-seconds long. Songs are about three minutes. Youtube videos average about 4 minutes (intentionally, because that’s the length of our attention span). But it becomes a vicious cycle, the shorter and easier the information, the more our brain gets programmed to crave that, and respond to it. It’s a mental high that we’re addicted to.
My Fall and Recovery
During the 6 months or so that I was heavily on Facebook, I didn’t read. I was still listening to audio books while cleaning my house (and I still believe audio books are a wonderful way to read), but I wasn’t still and focused on a book. I was multitasking while listening. An actual book in your hand requires a different kind of focus, but even listening to an audio book and sipping tea is better than always doing two things at once.
The damage I was doing hit me when I picked up a book months later. I couldn’t read for more than a few minutes at a time, and I struggled to get lost in the story. I tried other books and the same thing kept happening. It wasn’t the writing; it was my attention span and reading muscles!
I had to intentionally reprogram my brain to strengthen my reading skills. How sad is that?! I made myself read every day, pushing through one book at a time, and increasing my reading time and difficulty until I was back in the zone. It was like a workout regime for my brain.
It sounds like a recovery story from a brain injury or illness, and it’s embarrassing to admit it’s from Facebook. Short news articles. Memes. Quotes. Fleeting bits of information that did nothing for my life or my intelligence.
We’re Called to a Different Life
I have a feeling I’m not alone in my struggle. The good news is that the Lord has built our minds to grow and stretch. He wants us to fill up on solid food, on things that have a higher meaning and reveal deeper beauty.
In order to do so, we have to slow down and be intentional. The key is to cultivate a capacity and longing for something more than what we’re capable of now. There’s so much good writing out there to experience and enjoy; here’s a rundown of ideas to push you to your next level.
- Blogs and Magazines–The articles are still short, but they’re longer than a social media post, and are a good place to start. You can find blogs and magazines on any topic that peeks your interest. The benefit of blogs is that they’re free and if you sign up for the associated newsletter, it’s emailed to you on a regular basis. I keep a fold in my gmail for all blog subscriptions, and I work to turn there for a quick break in my day instead of Facebook, Instagram, or Pinterest.
- Young Adult Literature — I’m a HUGE fan of quality YA literature for my own reading enjoyment. If you’re struggling to get into a good book or need a little mental break, YA is the place to turn. Authors to check out (not all are Christian authors): CS Lewis, Priscilla Schirer, John Bunyan, Avi, Susan Cooper, Elizabeth George Speare, Scott O’Dell, Frances Hodgson Burnett, L.M. Montgomery.
- Fiction — Everyone has a genre they’re drawn to; find yours and dive in! As Christians, we have literary standards that we need to establish for ourselves just like we do with movies, TV or music. Not all books are worth the time, and many in popular circulation glorify sinful behavior. There are some good Christian writers out there, but truthfully, I mainly read non-Christian fiction, so I’m careful about the content.
- Non-Fiction — When I was younger I equated non-fiction with dry text books, but in my maturity, I’ve found the intellectual value in it. Just like with fiction, there’s a vast array of genres and topics out there. Many Christians enjoy reading Christian non-fiction that can rage from topical to Bible study to theology and even biographies. Some Christian authors to explore (just the tip of the iceberg!): CS Lewis, Priscilla Schirer, AW Tozer, David Platt, Corrie ten Boom, St. Augustine, and Brother Lawrence.
- Classics — I found a fun article called What Jane Austen Taught Me About Scripture that highlights the connection between our reading strength and interacting with His Word. I’m a pretty devoted Janeite, so it resonated with me! Classic literature is usually written at a higher readability level, with more complex vocabulary, sentence structure, themes, and characters. They’ve stood the test of time and resonate across cultures and generations. My favorite authors (not Christian writers): Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, Kate Chopin, Harper Lee, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Louisa May Alcott, Mark Twain, J. R. R. Tolkien, George Eliot, and Margaret Atwood (still alive!),
- Scripture — This is what it’s all about, after all! In our living Word, you’ll find history, biography, prophesy, poetry, romance, adventure, epic battles, heroes, villains, and transformational truth to live your life by.
I can tell the bud is getting bigger! This is such a slow process . . .
Living A Different Life Series
Enjoy the whole series on living a different life as a Christian. One that focuses on whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy.
- Week 1: Set Your Mind Upon Finer Things: A Series for Living a Different Life (including the start of the orchid story!)
- Week 3: Cultivating Hospitality: Part 2 in A Series for Living a Different Life
- Week 4: Slow Down with Good Literature: Part 3 in A Series for Living a Different Life
- Week 5 Aligning Our Work with His Work: Part 4 in A Series for Living a Different Life
- Week 6: Connect with Food: Part 5 in A Series for Living a Different Life
My newsletter (that you can sign up for here) is the highlight of my ministry. Every Monday you get the direct link to our weekly scripture meditation (it includes a breakdown of the scripture to help you dive deeper–you can see an example here), a roundup of all the week’s articles that I’ve published, AND I try to keep it fun and interesting!