Wednesday, July 25, 2012

A Well-Balanced Reading Diet

Eating is one of my favorite occupations.

But that doesn't have to be a bad thing, as long as we vary our diet and don't over indulge on any one thing.*

*this rule doesn't necessarily apply to chocolate.

When you think of the types of foods available to us, they generally fall into one of three categories: 

1) Steak and potatoes - a well rounded meal with a protein, starch, 2 kinds of veggies, a fruit and a whole grain.
2) Fast food - either from a restaurant or a quick sandwich at home.
3) Dessert. Sweets and candy. 'Nuff said. 

Now if we always ate the #1 type foods, we would be healthy and happy - - but sometimes we just don't have the time and energy for a meal like that. We may not even be hungry enough for a full meal like that.

When it comes to reading, the classics and great literature fall in the #1 category. They're meaty, and worth taking our time to read them. They stretch our vocabularies and our imaginations, and they challenge our worldviews. But sometimes we just don't have the time and energy to slog through Dostoevsky or Steinbeck. Our minds need to engage with these authors when we read, and that doesn't happen every time we sit down to read.

What about the #2 type foods? These foods can ease our hunger and get us to the next meal. If we choose our menu well, we might even do pretty well if we only ate #2 foods and nothing else. But it's easy to fall into the "burger and fries" mode for every meal. How boring!

How about reading in the #2 category? This category is where most of our favorite books reside. They're easy to read, good stories. They move us emotionally, they get made into movies that entertain us, and we can pick up these stories anywhere. All our friends are reading these books, and we can discuss them in line at the grocery store. The danger is that these books rarely challenge us to look beyond our own lives and rarely require us to engage in an intellectual conversation with the author. A steady diet of these books can be satisfying, but eventually they become boring and predictable.

And what about #3? In foods, these are the desserts and candy. If you ate only these types of foods, you'd soon be in the hospital - so we save them for occasional treats.

And #3 reading? Think of the kind of fluff you pick up to read when you're tired or wrung out emotionally. These are the quick short stories in magazines, or a fun novella. The stories aren't complex, it's easy to get to know the characters, and the conflict is easily resolved in a few pages. There's a place for light reading, but you wouldn't want to make a steady diet of it.

So what is my reading diet like?

I tend to read a lot from the #2 pile - we all do. But after I've read a few #2's, I'll pick up a #1 to give myself a challenge. It's a little like peeking into another world for a while. The #3's get interspersed in the odd moments - a magazine short story or a short romance on my Kindle.

A couple days ago I picked up Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky. I read it when I was in college (has it really been 35 years?) for a Russian literature class. I came back to it because I remember it being much deeper and complex than I could understand back then.

That's the way good literature is, isn't it? One reading doesn't do it justice.

I'm at the end of chapter two, and I'm just floored at the way Dostoevsky is unfolding his story. This book deserves its status as a classic.

But I doubt if I'll read it straight through.

I'll read a few chapters of C & P, then the new Mary Connealy book will arrive from Amazon and I'll devour that. Then a few more chapters of C&P, and then another book will grab my attention.

But that's okay. I believe in a varied diet!

What does your reading diet look like?
Are you stuck in only one food group?
What book are you thinking about challenging yourself with next?

1 comment:

  1. Any chance I could send you a copy of my book for review?