I love to read, always have. But after I became Mom to my two beautiful kids, I mourned the loss of my reading time. I’ve tried to convince my husband to read with me at night, side by side on the couch after the kids have gone to bed (so romantic!) But he reads during the day to prep for teaching his college classes and just wants to watch TV or movies at night. I want to spend time with him, so we typically watch TV or part of a movie, then I head to our bedroom upstairs for about thirty minutes of reading time before I fall asleep. With this scant amount of time dedicated to reading, I’d be lucky to finish eighteen books a year. It took me almost a year and half to finish Anna Karenina. (That book is like a trophy on my shelf now.)
I tried audio books, but found myself getting distracted, then losing the storyline, then quitting in frustration. This past December, though, I started something new.
I’m not sure how I started reading with both an audio book and a hard copy. I think I needed to read a book quickly for work and decided to buy it on Audible even though I already had a copy. But it worked. I’d listen to the audio book while driving, getting ready in the morning, exercising, folding laundry, doing the dishes. If I found myself getting lost, I’d return to the hard copy to re-read what I needed to get myself back on track with the story. Then I’d continue with the audio book.
Having to re-read the hard copy of a book may sound like it would take me twice as long to read a book. But now that I have found a way to make audio books work for me, I am reading books all the time—instead of just 30 minutes at night. I’ve even found that I’m learning how to focus on audio books better now. Before I started this new reading method, I couldn’t listen to an audio book and exercise at the same time. Now I can.
Since I started reading books like this, using both audio books and a hard copy to turn to when I get lost, or reading both at the same time, I have read thirty books in 6 months. The key to this approach, though, is to avoid BUYING two versions of the same book. That would break the bank! So I’ve learned to rely on my local libraries for the hard copies of my books, shop the sales on Audible for credits, and use apps like Libby for older audio books to rent.
[Photo Credit: Magda K]
Fifteen minutes into our discussion of Townie: A Memoir by Andre Dubus III, Harold raises his hand. We were in the cleanest, air conditioned classroom of the prison’s vocational building, but the fan was blowing directly above Harold’s head. “Would anybody mind if we shut this fan off?” Shutting the fan off would definitely warm the classroom. But all twenty of us–seventeen inmates, two faculty and me (the college chaplain)–understood that Harold just wanted to hear the conversation better. We agreed to shut off the fan.
This is par for the course in our book club discussions at the men’s prison 15 miles from our college’s campus. As our faculty lead discussions on books such as Plato’s Republic, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, The Martian, and the Epic of Gilgamesh, the men lean forward in their seats, not wanting to miss a word. They are thoughtful, intelligent men who are hungry for opportunities to learn. Our faculty love teaching in the prison. The men who attend our book club have renewed our vocation as educators. Every time we are with these men we witness the liberating power of education. After class, each man expresses his gratitude for us coming to read books with them and oftentimes they write us heartfelt thank you notes. Here are some quotes from the men about our book club:
“I felt like a free man for those two hours. The time went by so quickly.”
“We, as prisoners, are rarely the recipients of altruistic acts performed by strangers; therefore, in the rare occurrence when we are, not only do those acts connect us, albeit loosely, to society, but also they affirm our humanity.”
“Having the opportunity to read material that I normally wouldn’t is a breath of life infused into my soul…The collaborative open dialogue of the book club allows me to grasp on to the very thing which my closed prison environment was built to strip away, little-by-little, year after year…my humanity.”
“This book club has given a forum for those intellectuals among our population to gather and fellowship, as well as, challenge ourselves and each other. Perhaps the group’s greatest virtue is that the club is diverse and welcoming of people from different walks of life. In a profound way, your contributions have brought together men whom under normal circumstances may not associate, and so you’ve provided us all with the opportunity to grow beyond just the knowledge provided by the books we’ve read. Knowledge we glean from each other.”
Currently, there are many disturbing cases where books are being banned from prisons, in spite of evidence that reading builds empathy, emotional intelligence, critical thinking skills and reduces recidivism. We feel fortunate that our local state prison continues to let us run this book club.
Would you like to support the program? If you would like to purchase a book for an incarcerated man in our book club, please follow this link to review our wish list of upcoming books we have been approved to read. If all the books are purchased, you can also support these men by buying a gift card that will be used to buy books we are approved to read in the future. All our books need to be paperbacks and go through an approval process at the prison.
It’s been TOO long since I’ve posted on my blog. One of my summer goals, along with getting back to meditating, is to start posting again. So stay tuned….
I have been writing a lot, though, working on my first book and I have three Living by the Word articles out now in the Christian Century. Here’s a link to the article I wrote on Jesus’ Ascension from Luke 24: 44-53–a text I find challenging and a little hokey.
And here’s a picture of our dog Max, who gets me every time when he begs like this with those big brown eyes.
More to come!
I dreamed about Brett Kavanaugh the night after he was confirmed as our newest Supreme Court Justice and President Trump apologized to him on behalf of us all. My dream was vivid in detail. Judge Kavanaugh had grown his hair long and was sitting, open-robed, among the other justices, smoking a cigarette, a large gold medal strung around his neck on a royal blue ribbon.
As I dream, my feelings—about white male entitlement, a patriarchal system that promotes those of the wrong temperament, a society that doesn’t believe women like Dr. Christine Blasey Ford or #MeToo—betray me. Last week was long and difficult. How does one bounce back from a week like that?
Thumbing through my books in search of words that might offer me a renewed sense of purpose, some reason to keep on keeping on, I came across this:
…And right action is freedom
From past and future also.
For most of us, this is the aim
Never here to be realized;
Who are only undefeated
Because we have gone on trying…
Keep on trying, for our daughters and our daughter’s daughters and all the daughters of God who, made in Her image, deserve better than this.
[Feature Image: Joseph B]
In her poem “Tablets IV”, Dunya Mikhail writes:
The homeless are not afraid
to miss something.
What passes through their eyes
is how the clouds pass over the rushing cars,
the way pigeons miss some of the seeds
on the road and move away.
Yet only they know
what it means to have a home
and to return to it.
During my morning practice of reading and a savoring a poem, this stanza gave me pause. The “knowing” of the homeless Mikhail writes about is not a knowing we would envy. The homeless know what it means to have a home because they miss having one. But the “knowing” of this poem made me instantly grateful for my home, my life, the bed I sleep in each night.
I’ve been writing a lot this summer. I haven’t posted as much on this blog because I’ve been carefully crafting a book proposal that I’m hoping will turn into my first book. The book is about the “knowing” to which I have been led by people whose lives are wholly different than my own—prisoners, immigrants, LGBTQ+, persons of color. I should add the homeless. As a white woman of privilege I don’t know what their lives are like—in fact I am quite blind to and ignorant of this knowledge. But I can know. And I should. Because from knowing grows understanding. And understanding builds relationships. And when we are in relationship with each other we can begin to meet the needs of those who, for far too long, have been pushed aside by society.
[Feature Image: Patrick Marioné]
In an interview with Krista Tippett, cellist Yo-Yo Ma reflects on the transitions inherent in life while quoting Isaac Stern: “The music happens between the notes.”
“What does this mean?” Yo-Yo Ma pauses to ask. “How do you get from A to B? Do you glide into the next note, is it a smooth transfer, or do you have to reach—physically, mentally or effortfully to go from one note to the next? Could the next note be part of the first note? Or could the next note be a different universe? Have you just crossed some amazing boundary and suddenly the next note is a revelation?”
Making music is infinitely complex. It takes mental and emotional and spiritual investment. A meaningful life requires the same.
As much as we would like it to, life never stands still. I am halfway through a summer where I have spent some blessed downtime focusing on my first book project. The thought of the academic year beginning in a few short weeks makes my heart heavy. But Yo-Yo Ma has made me pause here to ask, “How do I move from one note of life to the next?”
In Psalm 98 the Israelites are encouraged to “sing a new song” while living in exile. They were far from home, living in a foreign land with strange new foreign ways. It was a painful, uncomfortable time. Yet the psalmist encouraged them to sing. Find your way to the next note, I imagine the Psalmist advising, and, find the way your notes connect to make your song.
According to the psalmist, we each have a song to sing. Knowing this can be a comfort in the in between times when we find ourselves stretched, uncomfortable, depressed, or grieved. Our lives have meaning and purpose, but how we make our way from one note of life to the next determines the melody we make. It would serve us well, then, to lean in and listen; to be intentional in the in between times; to find our way with purpose, confident that our notes will eventually connect in a song that only we are meant to sing.
[Feature Image: Pogo1]