I seem to go in cycles with books; I read a lot, then I don't read much, then I read a lot again. I tend to say it helps that I am a relatively fast reader, except that sometimes it doesn't help at all. I'm not good at slow reading, something I alluded to in my end-of-year book post as concerns the novel My Brilliant Friend, a book I recently reread and finished, and not surprisingly, loved. But at this point, having started and stopped it more than once it feels more like an old friend rather than something new, and I don't feel particularly inclined to write about the book. Perhaps I will regret that later, perhaps not. I can say that reading it, even reading it in multiple attempts has affected my reading of other books, the associations I make and the connections I fabricate in my own inner narrative. But then again that is what we all do, part of the process of the stories we tell ourselves in order to survive our own lives. Something either affects the narrative or it is cast aside, although sometimes things we think we cast aside come back to haunt us.
My Brilliant Friend was only one of the five books I read in the first half of January. Of the three novels, it was probably technically the best, but each one has its own merits, and each one has played its own part in my own mental narrative, so that I can't quite distance myself enough yet to pick favorites. You know of course, that sometimes our favorite books are not necessarily the best books. Or maybe that is only a distinction that only affects those of us who are overeducated and prone to overthinking. I shall be one of the first to raise my hand.
The two other books pictured above, Cynthia Crysdale's Transformed Lives and Mark McIntosh's Mysteries of Faith, are books that are part of the EFM curriculum. I am in my fourth year, the year focused on theology, and the program is a good forum for one to review source materials, history, culture, and, in the process of speaking with others, form a clear and coherent personal statement of faith and belief. I am not one to say what that faith or belief should necessarily entail, as each journey is a personal one, even as I acknowledge that the EFM curriculum is based in the Christian tradition.
Anyway back to the books. The class as a whole just finished Crysdale, and I enjoyed it very much. I think the McIntosh is the better book, at least from my perspective, except that I am not technically supposed to have finished it yet, and therefore cannot comment further. I still have several weeks of discussion centered around this book ahead of me, but I think that I personally am much better off having read it of a piece, and referring back, much the same way I wished I had done the same thing with the Ferrante read-a-long, than I would be dragging this book out over months. I have simply come to accept that I find stringing small books out over weeks or months to be more stressful than just reading through them. I may be in the minority, given the popularity of adult education classes that spend months on books, just like this tome by McIntosh. So be it. There must be a few of us in any crowd. For a while I wondered how I got through college, until I remembered that I went to the kind of college where I read a book a week for each class, often a thousand or more pages per week, and thought my life was pretty easy.
I do have to say that Mysteries of Faith book has been instrumental in cementing my own awareness of my thoughts on the meaning of life, on purpose, on God, and why we are all here, not so much because of what the author says, and I do sometimes think he becomes overwhelmingly circular in his arguments, but because of the way the author has started a conversation that has led me to think and question and formulate my own questions and answers. And I suppose that this is what the study of theology, at least from a lay position, is all about. To quote a previous book, "we are all theologians", we all form our own stories and meanings and sense of purpose in life, no matter the framework we use to define that purpose. And if we live in the United States, much of that cultural baggage has been framed by Judaism and Christianity whether we personally adhere to those beliefs or not. You can't really know where you stand unless you know where you are, and perhaps how you came to be here in the first place. Perhaps it is time to take a stand toward openness and acceptance. Of course you can't take such a position if you are mired in quicksand. You have to build your own foundation, one that can bend in the winds without toppling over, one with roots that grow deep and strong, and then you can open your arms to the world.