I have a confession to make. It’s not an easy one to make, either. In fact, by making it, I will be revealing myself to be a sham. I will give many people who know me, or even who have glossed briefly over this blog, ample reason to call into question any further claims that I make about myself. That is because this confession that I am about to make finds its source in a recent epiphany of mine, which occurred while I was showering just a moment ago. That is to say, I myself wasn’t even aware of this fact. And it calls into question, for myself, much of what I have come to think about, well, myself:
I don’t love to read. And I never have, really.
Now this is distinctly different from saying that I don’t like to read. That’s not the case at all. And in fact, there are an immeasurable number of books and articles that I have devoured, to the point where I could say that I loved reading them. But for me to continue telling the world that I am a bibliophile who spends all of his leisure time rummaging through the pages of Church Dogmatics or Kant’s Critiques would be disingenuous. On top of the usual other possibilities, such as drawing and playing piano or guitar, there is also the possibility of sleeping. Or, watching sports. Basically, if a good football game is on, you can forget about me doing much else.
Sitting down to read almost always has two results: One is that, while reading I will come across a nugget that catches me, and then sends me into a tailspin of emotions and implications, as this novel, brilliant thought intersects my web of beliefs. Those implications often have me chasing me after other further implications, and before you know it I am spewing out original (at least, to me) thought after original thought, as I take these implications and hold them up to my “web,” taking note of both agreements and discrepancies, and as I began to hypothesize what my “web” might look like were I to incorporate this new knowledge. All wonderful things, except that they force me to stop reading in order to concentrate on this task of cognitive reorganization. So I put the book down, and resume reading after I have entertained this new thought fully, perhaps by writing notes in the book margins. A page or two later (or a paragraph, or even a sentence later, if you’re a particularly perceptive writer and the subject matter is engaging me at the moment), I’ll find another nugget, and the process will repeat itself. The result of this is any number of unfinished books on my shelf at one time, having started them and enjoyed them, and even had them influence my thinking to a great degree, but never actually being able to finish them, because the book exhausted me and because it took me an hour to read 5 pages of it.
The other result is that the book is either not engaging, either in general, or to me at the moment that I pick it up to read, or I simply choose, for time and sanity’s sake, not to go down too many of the above-described “rabbit trails” that I normally would. So I skim the book… doing so at a reasonably fast rate, and getting the majority of the book’s content in the process (a skill learned in seminary). I usually get bored, however, and unless I am required by a deadline to continue pushing myself to read on, I will inevitably fall asleep.
There are two problems, as I see it. The first is that I have problems focusing on one thing for long periods of time. Like those with attention deficit disorder, I will experience “hyperfocus” at times, but at others, if I am not engaged by the author, I don’t pay attention all that well. The second is, I think, the greater issue: I am not by nature a “sympathetic” reader. That is to say, I do not attempt to enter the world of the author; I force the author to enter into mine, narcissistic as I am. To follow an author’s thought patterns as disseminated in whatever work of theirs that I might be reading is not natural to me; far more natural it is to break off branches and to graft them into my way of thinking about the world.
I have another confession: I strongly believed the immediately preceding paragraph as I wrote it, but now upon further reflection, I am not so sure. After all, my thoughts are the synthesis of my studies, which involved hours of pouring over sentences and paragraphs. Sometimes my studies truly pulled me into the author’s world and thought process; I recall feeling this when reading Cost of Discipleship or God of the Oppressed. And sometimes, I would read things intently although I had nowhere to “put” the new information assaulting my brain; i.e., it couldn’t yet fit into my web and yet I couldn’t ignore or dismiss it. This was largely my experience with Exclusion and Embrace, although now upon rereading it, I can see just how much the book has influenced my theology. It is perhaps the most influential book for me in my tiny library, in fact. And if I wasn’t at least a little bit of a sympathetic reader, this couldn’t have been possible.
I’m not sure where all of this leaves me, or you, since you chose to read this entry. But the confession is healthy; if nothing else I feel liberated. This is also an exercise in self-reflection. I still love to study and learn, though….so, my nerd-dom is probably safe. But if I come to any further, similarly riveting conclusions, I’ll let you know.