I was talking to a friend the other day about books we’ve read and are reading. I’m making my way through Great Expectations by Charles Dickens as my ‘recreational book’ – the sort I read on lazy Sunday afternoons and before going to bed. It isn’t light reading compared to some of the other recreational books I’ve read in the past, but I’m loving it! Reading this book has made me think twice about those other ‘light’ books I’ve read in the past that I’ve raved about as being ‘so good’, when maybe, they’re not so great after all.
Last year I read an eleven-book series in about four months, called Ranger’s Apprentice, written by John Flanagan. They’re fictional stories set in medieval times about these rangers who are basically secret agents, but set 600 years ago! I really enjoyed the series (the fact that I read eleven books in four months proves that) – the characters were funny, the plot action-packed, and they were easy reading. And yet now, reading Great Expectations, the Ranger Apprentice books don’t look nearly as appealing or brilliant as they used to.
Great Expectations is cleverly written. His sentence structure and word choices are meaty and substantial, so interesting and delightful and engaging, it’s like a classical music piece that just rises in triumph and resonates with you. Yes, I have to look up a new word every few pages, and sometimes I have to re-read the sentence to understand what he’s saying, but there’s quality in the sentences in and of themselves; I’m not just relying on the adrenalin of the storyline to make the book worthwhile.
Books like these, they invite you to step into their world. Ranger’s Apprentice, they are entertaining and action-packed; they are pretty much go-go-go and don’t leave much room for dilly-dallying. I like books that leave you on the edge of your seat, but there’s something enjoyable about getting to know all about the characters in the book too – what they look like, some of their past experiences, their reputation. I’ll quote a blog post by Joe Rigney from Desiring God on reading the Narnia series:
…[W]e ought to first immerse ourselves in the stories as stories. We must learn to trek across the Narnian countryside, swim in the Narnian seas, distinguish Calormenes from Archenlanders, and navigate the etiquette of centaurs (it’s a very serious thing to invite a centaur to dinner; they have two stomachs after all). Keep reading…
When we do this – when we ‘immerse ourselves in the stories as stories’, we will then be able to really see the picture the author painted. In today’s world young people are pressured to read literature so early, and pick it apart, trying to understand what Beowulf or A Tale of Two Cities are about. However, when we delve into the story the author wrote, when we relish the adventures and the characters and the world he’s made up, the true meaning will bubble out. As we read these books, we should think, but it shouldn’t be like a scientist analysing something in a sterile lab. Rather we should think through what’s going on here – what the story is saying – what is the glaringly obvious point – what does the adventure all add up to be saying? What slant is the author coming from? As we enjoy the story as a story, and chew it over, we’ll discover something the author wanted us to find.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I like Ranger’s Apprentice. I’ve learnt from them. My challenge lies in making fast-paced, easy reading, non-challenging books all I ever read. There is so much out there in literature to grapple with: new ideas to explore, people to learn from, and political, biblical, and social truths to expound on. There are injustices to tear at the heart and comedies to put a sparkle in the eye. Classics, biographies, historical novels – they are all there for the taking and with them we’ll learn how this world ticks, how we can build better lives, and how we can help others. Our worldview will sharpen. So my challenge is this: read a good book, a book that is really, really worth your while.