Higher Living Reflections

Our Daily (B)Read

Since you are reading this and therefore literate, allow me to ask: Why do you read? Your answer can range from pleasure and information gathering to escapism and self-improvement. Whether nonfiction—news articles, essays, biographies—or fiction—mystery, sci-fi, romance—hopefully you find something new, rewarding, thought-provoking, or insightful in every piece.

Your choice of reading matter speaks about you. Forgive my pun, but it makes you an open book. As it is for me, you likely have your preferred genres and writers. You also likely find certain types of writing off-putting: uninteresting, out of your league, or button pushing, stuff you won’t waste time on.

We tend to associate literate with high-mindedness. And compared to its opposite—aliterate—literate is that. But literate people are not confined to the stifled realms of institutional—educational, professional, technical—literacy. A well-read, literate person does two things: reads often and reads across the literary spectrum.

I prefer and enjoy certain types of literature more than others. One is literary fiction, which is distinct from genre fiction. Genre fiction focuses more on plot, whereas literary fiction focuses more on theme and on character complexity and development. While genre fiction helps the reader escape from daily life, literary fiction does the opposite: It grabs the reader and prods them to bore down, go deep, and explore cultural, moral, psychological, and social issues, even those that might cause discomfort.

John Steinbeck ranks high in my pantheon of authors. If you want to learn facts about the Great Depression, you can reference a plethora of histories of that period. But if you want to feel what it was like for those who struggled to survive in the Dust Bowl, The Grapes of Wrath is your source. If you want to dig deeper into the Edenic myth of Adam, Eve, Cain, and Abel and move past simplistic good-versus-evil platitudes, read East of Eden.

I am intrigued by and want to learn more about cultures beyond my own. The best way is through their stories. Toni Morrison and Nora Zeale Hurston are two who have helped me understand and appreciate Black culture and history better. Rudolfo Anaya and Vine Deloria have done similar for Latino and Indigenous cultures. And William Faulkner, Harper Lee, and Pat Conroy are among my guides to comprehending the Southern mindset.

It is important for me to learn about writers whose work I spend time reading. Most often they are ones I can identify with or have a deep respect and admiration for because of their life story and achievements. Authors’ biographies provide me deeper insights into their works, but they also can be reminders about judging those I find disagreeable and challenging to be around. 

Ernest Hemingway is a case in point. I love his writing but have never liked the man. After watching the Ken Burns and Lynn Novick Hemingway series on PBS, I arrived at a more compassionate view. I now understand the reasons for his larger-than-life heroes like Robert Jordan in For Whom the Bell Tolls. But I also understand—and prefer—the story behind The Sun Also Rises, a non-action-packed tale populated by anti-hero, cynical, disillusioned characters forging their ways in a morally bankrupt world. I still don’t like Hemingway, but I now appreciate how his compensating for his dreadful childhood molded him into the overbearing, swaggering swashbuckler he became.

The Lord’s Prayer beseeches God to give us “our daily bread.” That is what reading is: Our daily intellectual bread. I admit to gorging on it. I lick my chops at the thought of digging into a good book. I want to keep learning, opening my mind, and rising above and beyond residual biases and ignorance. And I am addicted to stories. I like to say that when one shares theirs courageously and forthrightly, I am hooked.

That’s my story. What’s yours?

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  • Laurel McHargue
    November 12, 2021 at 2:10 pm

    People have been asking me to write about my time at West Point, but because I’ve never felt drawn toward doing it in an autobiographical way, I’m now immersed in writing a sci-fi (1st book of what will be a series) based on some of my experiences. Way more fun this way! Like you, I read–and encourage people to read–voraciously and across genres. Because you want to delve more deeply into different cultures, I’d like to recommend the book “Trees and Other Witnesses” by author Kathy Taylor. I recently interviewed Kathy (my YouTube link: https://youtu.be/9zkwZEZwBHM) and know you will appreciate her brand of literary fiction. Comfortable genres are fun, but exploring ones that are less comfortable will allow you to grow as a writer . . . and a person.

  • Jim Ringel
    November 12, 2021 at 7:06 pm

    What I like best about being a reader is the way it encourages us to test our assumptions. Reading helps reveal the me I’ve not yet become. That’s a gift.

  • Patty Sellers
    November 27, 2021 at 10:21 pm

    I like what Jim said (above) reading helps reveal the me I’ve not yet become
    I like to write funny notes about life on the farm in hopes that they make someone else smile
    I like phrases and comments that make me “think” and picture a situation in different way.
    I’m not much of a reader. But I did like Sisyphus Wins and Killer Angels, and now enjoying Food for Thought
    So “my story”? I’ll probably keep reading your stories !