Thursday, June 28, 2007

Book note: Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading, by Eugene H. Peterson

There's a fairly lengthy excerpt from Eat This Book over at Christianity Today (May 2007), in which the author discusses "a dog-with-a-bone kind of reading," and World War I, and Swiss pastor Karl Barth's influence on author John Updike, and Barth's anecdote about people living in a self-contained world in a warehouse with grimed over windows (people who therefore don't know there's any world but the warehouse world until a child scrapes some grime off and looks outside), and Kafka, and more, rather a lot more actually... and somehow makes it all come together. It took me a while to get into the piece, but I'm glad I persisted. There's lots to think about there.

Much of it is aimed specifically at spiritual reading, but there's also quite a bit about different ways of reading, and of using language, that I think pure secularists might appreciate.

(Speaking of using language: I'm currently reading a book from the 14th century, translated from French into English, but not modern English by any stretch. It's just modern enough I can wade through, with much-appreciated help from footnotes, but in the process of learning to read this dialect I'm, uhm, starting to have archaic words pop into my head when they shouldn't, and occasionally find myself assigning old meanings to words that are still in use but don't mean what they used to, and sometimes I'm having to work at sentence structure instead of just flinging off whatever comes to mind. It wouldn't be quite so much of a problem, I suspect, if what I'm reading were an ugly or dull way of communicating, but it isn't. More on this later, in another post... if I retain my ability to speak in intelligible English, that is. ;)

Getting back to Eat This Book... I'm pretty sure somebody traded in a copy of it at our bookstore, and I only glanced at it, thought 'cute but strange title,' but didn't put any meaning to it. (The author explains the title in the above-linked excerpt, by the way.) So I probably had a copy of the book I could have read, but probably don't anymore, and now will likely have to buy a copy instead of borrowing one from the shelves, which wouldn't bother me a bit, of course, if I didn't remember already having one. Welcome to Bookstore Land, where seller's remorse is a way of life. (I'm laughing at myself here, by the way. In some ways I'm more naturally suited to setting up a library - I wouldn't have to relinquish any books except to criminals or misadventure if I ran a library - but giving people ownership of books has its own rewards. I'm afraid if I were a librarian I'd feel bad about demanding that someone bring a book back after he'd discovered it was more meaningful than expected.)

And... did I just use the word misadventure? Me? Did I mention I'm studying the 1300s right now? Or that I read three books from the 1600s earlier this year? Or that I've dosed up on early 20th century literature lately? Or that a few weeks ago I read something from the 4th century (in translation, of course, but it was still not modern English by any stretch). Bouncing from one century to another like this is certainly expanding my vocabulary. Whether it's expanding it in beneficial ways is another question entirely...

On a more serious note, I've found that it really helps me to read old books now and then. As C.S. Lewis might have mentioned (I think it was Lewis), every era has its blind spots, including whichever era you happen to live in. I don't think you can see your own world as clearly as you ought to, unless you borrow, now and again, the perspective of people who lived in other times, civilizations, and/or circumstances. It helps me, at any rate.

Update: Via the Saturday Review of Books, here's a review of Eat This Book that appeared at Vox Vendsel.

1 comment:

Laurie said...

This was fun to read! I love the word misadventure BTW. I know this isn't your point, but while I have never eaten a book, a lot of books make me hungry, the food scenes are so yummy they drive me to the kitchen.