Is reading necessarily the highest use of leisure time?

“I don’t own a television.”

It’s the mantra of many who want to signal their elevation above the unwashed masses who go bananas with excitement at the prospect of a new season of Game of Thrones or Jack Ryan. I had to Google “most popular current television shows” to come up with those two titles. Does that earn me a bit of intellectual gravitas?

The sign of an educated mind today is often marked by testimonies of reading, and reading so many books per month, quarter or year, determined by what the reader thinks is the best period to use as a gauge. Reading it is supposed, is infinitely better than watching television. Anything, it is supposed, is better than watching television. Given that this is a blog dedicated chiefly to the discussion of books, reading, and the vast amount of knowledge to be found as a result, you might assume I am of the mind that reading is ever and always better than watching television.

Disclosure: As I begin this post, America’s Test Kitchen is fading to black on PBS and I am looking forward to next program, Steven Raichlen’s Project Fire. I am a sucker for a good cooking show and PBS spares me offensive commercials. No. I have not killed my TV. It doesn’t get a whole lot of use, at least not for scripted broadcast television shows, but we do have one.

Over dinner tonight we discussed this idea that reading in itself is a higher brow leisure activity.  The general consensus was that yes, it is certainly better than watching television. There was also a general agreement that a lot of people who brag about their lack of television watching spend copious amounts of time watching YouTube videos or arguing on Twitter and Facebook, which is hardly any better. What I really wanted to know however, is if there is more reading taking place, and if so, is it the kind of reading which adds to the metal acuity what television is presumed to take away from it. The answer we came away with was: It depends.

One of our daughters, a history buff if ever there was one, has been watching the documentary series World War II in color. She questioned whether reading one of the latest YA novels would be more advantageous than watching her documentary based solely on the fact that she would be turning pages whether than watching a screen. It’s on this point that I find myself parked.

There is a school of thought among people in general and even some educators that children and teens reading anything is better than if they were reading nothing at all. I am embarrassed to admit that there was a point when I harbored such foolish thoughts as well. Reading is fundamental, after all! Reading is always the best and most effective use of one’s leisure if television is the alternative. Hikes, jogs, nature exploration and the likes are even better, but suburbanites are not always in the position to exercise those options.

However, a cursory glance at the books which are most popular today leaves me with the impression that most are literature’s version of junk food. Books so devoid of depth (of characters as well as language) that many people can read two or three of them a week without missing a beat! Given the relatively common damage to the attention spans of the public at large, it doesn’t take a literature professor to figure out that 300 page books which can be zipped through in one’s spare time after just three days and over 4 hours are probably hamburger to Thackeray’s t-bone steak.

The devolution of reading, which we’ve discussed before, necessitates that certain books demand different levels of engagement than others. In other words, digesting words on a page is technically to read. However when we digest and process ideas, language, and stories that challenge us to think deeply and seek more earnestly the good, the true, and beautiful, then we know that we are really reading.

In short, not all reading is created equal.

Elaboration: Yes, in most cases, reading beats watching television. I know full well most Americans aren’t into PBS cooking shows or WWII documentaries. Including our young adult kids, who are kind of hooked on The Office.

Wait. Is Netflix TV?

 

Deep woods rabbit trail: Why online dating is ruining Western Civilization.

For reasons I cannot begin to imagine (or maybe I can), the largest percentages of clicks this blog receives in any given week are directed towards the posts reviewing the chapters of Aziz Ansari’s Modern Romance.

Most of the readers are from the U.S., however as many as a third are from around the globe. Something about that book clearly strikes a nerve with people and as they look for analysis, Google sends some here. This factoid is my excuse for a deep woods* rabbit trail post.

A friend recently shared with me a video titled, Why Online Dating is Ruining Western Civilization by Mayim Bialik. Now normally, the combination of a famous Hollywood actress and the words patriarchy spilling from her lips causes me to roll my eyes in a combination of disdain and disgust, but the overwhelming majority of what Ms. Bialik shares here is so funny and tinged with truth that I will forgive her that folly.

It’s worth the 7 minutes, perhaps even if you disagree. Enjoy, and have a great weekend!

 

*Deep woods rabbit trail posts are posts that generally veer far away from the subjects of reading, books, writing and education. They are few and far between, as they should be.

The Life Giving Home

life giving home book

The Life Giving Home: Creating a Place of becoming and Belonging, by Sally Clarkson and Sarah Clarkson. Originally purchased in 2016. 272 pages.

Books and people which extol ideals and poetically challenge us to reach for them can be good for us, even when attaining those ideals feels impossibly out of our reach. The key to being able to properly appreciate what we’re reading is to be comfortable and settled in to who we are, what we can do, and what our particular life and stage of life requires of us. If we’re not, what is meant to encourage us can cause the reader to feel as if she is failing.

Often before reading a book, and occasionally in the midst of reading it, I read reviews other readers have written about the book. About halfway through The Life Giving Home, I suddenly wanted to know what other readers took away from this book, because the ideal loomed large.

Sally and Sarah Clarkson, the mother and daughter authors of The Life Giving Home did a good job of combining their homemaking ideas, principles, and stories. Using these, they weaved together a tapestry designed to give the reader both a glimpse and a spark of desire to cultivate a “life-giving home”.

There were redundancies and literary hiccups along the way, to be sure. As I read the chapters that Sarah Clarkson authored, I was often reminded of the words of acclaimed author James Baldwin: “You want to write a sentence as clean as a bone. That is the goal.” Despite those missteps, I appreciated her insights on the importance of home cultivation even as a single person. A home and hearth which provides peace, restoration and sustenance is important in the life of everyone, regardless of their particular family situation.

“All people need a place where their roots can grow deep and they always feel like they belong and have a loving refuge. And all people need a place that gives wings to their dreams, nurturing possibilities of who they might become.”

The ideals espoused in Sally Clarkson’s chapters were what drew ire and feelings of inadequacy from those readers who didn’t enjoy her book. The temptation is strong to feel defensive in the presence of examples and family stories which seem far above anything we can replicate in our own lives and families. I don’t light candles, neither do we have a fireplace but love, life, laughter and creativity are cultivated in our home in myriads of other ways. Quite recently we had a painting night where we all produced works that are masterpieces to no one but us:

paint night1

paintnight3

In other words, you can build family memories on things other than candles, hearth fires, Celtic music, and poetry reading.

This book is hopeful if far from a perfect one in many respects. I found their idealism refreshing; worthy of emulation. We don’t live in the same geographic region nor do we have the same likes or dislikes as the authors’ family. We do however, engage in meals, family routines, and memories that look different from the Clarksons and that is as it should be. It doesn’t require that we do everything the way Sally and Clay Clarkson did:

“Every day in each inch of space, each rhythm of time, each practice of love, we have the chance to join God in coming home, in living so that we make a home of this broken and beautiful world all over again. Love is enfleshed in the meals we make, the rooms we fill, the spaces in which we live and breathe and have our being.”

The Clarskons do paint a picture of their home life that could invoke feelings of inferiority were I not settled in my own life and in the home we have created for our family. Her children, in whom she expressed  praised and immense pride, could summon worries of personal deficiencies in parents whose children are still finding their way. As I read this book, I was thoroughly convinced that this was not her intent but rather that the authors hoped to inspire a determination to create a home of sanctuary, whatever that entailed for each of us.

The book had a well organized structure, but should have been shorter. After the initial chapter, each chapter correlated to a specific month of year, beginning in January. In each of those either Sally or Sarah offered inspirational ideas that could be implemented in that month, accompanied by stories of family memories.

Some of the ideas and stories felt redundant or reworked from chapter to chapter, which I found bothersome. I only need to hear about the peaceful atmosphere provided by lighting candles a couple of times. I get it. They find lighting a candle a peaceful, affirming addition to the atmosphere of the home. The same things apply to music, fires in the fireplace, and a hot bowl of soup. The repetitiveness of those family rituals were often repeated in a ritualistic way. It would have been better to express the importance of constancy in a less redundant way.

Lastly, the flowery language that Sally Clarkson is known for is just as prevalent in this books as in past books. There are times when I can read and enjoy flowery language, but it’s not something I am always in the mood for. When I’m not in the mood for it, I can barely read more than a chapter of it. I recognize that there are some readers who don’t ever enjoy it, so I feel obliged to include an advisory that this is a flowery book.

Many of the other reviewers of this book felt as if they couldn’t appreciate while they had several young children underfoot, or felt as if  it was some way in condemning to their underwhelming efforts as wives and mothers. That was, in my opinion, an unfortunate reading of the book, even though I understand how a young mother could reach that conclusion. The takeaway is do what we can, in line with our own abilities, resources, and family structure to live a little more intentionally when we consider the atmosphere of our home.

A strong current of encouraging hospitality was also a part of this book. Hospitality is a struggle for many of us in this era, but inviting someone over for coffee and cake is a lot less pressure than a full-on dinner party, which was also a good reminder.

I can’t say I loved this book, but there were sections that I liked a great deal. Unfortunately, there were parts I didn’t like as much. However, it wasn’t because I felt the book offered unrealistic ideals.

2 and 1/2 our of 5 stars.