My mother had a sweatshirt that read: “The more you read, the more you know. The more you know, the smarter you grow. The smarter you grow, the stronger your voice, when speaking your mind or making your choice.” I wore it for years after her death, as a reminder of a mother who loved books and instilled the same in all her children. So, with that quote in mind, I want to reflect on the importance of books and what it means for our future as a community, nation, and world.
Reading builds knowledge.
In the same way my reading of the Bible builds my understanding of God and his plan for me as a Christ-follower, so too does the reading of books increase my understanding of others and the world in which I live. Both my parents were voracious readers, each with a stack on their bedside tables, near their chairs in the den, and across the bookshelves of their house. What I appreciated about their love of books was their willingness to read beyond their own preferences. In order to increase their understanding, they were not afraid to read a writer whose worldview differed from their own. I have taken this example to heart, and though I might not enjoy a book by someone who differs from me on a particular topic, I will read their work in order to gain insight into that viewpoint. In doing this, I’m led to the second point of the above quote.
More knowledge makes you smarter.
I will put a disclaimer on this element of reading. Being smarter does not necessarily mean one is wiser. Wisdom is the ability to apply knowledge in an appropriate or beneficial manner. Not everyone who knows stuff is wise about how they use it. For example, a book may teach me how to lose weight, but if I use that knowledge to shame my overweight neighbor, then I’ve not been wise in how I used the knowledge I gained.
That said, as I read differing viewpoints, my base of knowledge on a particular subject grows. This enables me to have deeper conversations with others. When I was preparing to leave the United States to serve overseas as a missionary, I spent a lot of time reading and studying about the cultures I would encounter. This helped to lessen the culture shock of living in a different place with a different language and worldview.
On the day I wrote this article, I attended a book group. We discussed Under the Tulip Tree, a novel by Michell Shocklee. I don’t read a lot of fiction, but this one was definitely worth the effort, as it told the story of a young white woman during the depression years who is given the assignment of interviewing ex-slaves for a government project. Not only did the book illustrate the importance of listening to the stories of others, but I was also blown away by the stories shared by women in my book group. We learned so much about each other and this time period in American history. We became part of that collective narrative and as a result, became smarter.
The smarter we grow through reading, the stronger our voices.
When we read to babies and toddlers, their ability to speak is exponentially increased. Children that have been read to since birth have larger vocabularies and can achieve much more in their school years. Adults who choose to read and read widely are able to speak into the conversations in their communities, nations, and world. When we look back at leaders in our own country, we find that those who speak with the strongest voices are those who read on a consistent basis. We know that many of our founding fathers belonged to what writer Cheryl Forbes calls “the culture of reading.”
The more we read, from classics to poetry, from fiction to a wide range of nonfiction works, the better-rounded our mental storage bank of knowledge to pull from in speaking up on issues and topics with others. We can stand our ground in debate because we have more than just a one-sided or social-media understanding of an issue. Reading takes us to the sources of matters that are important in our culture today. People will pause to listen to us because we show that we know about what we speak.
Reading helps us not only to speak our minds but to make decisions.
One of the ways I use my eclectic book choices is to speak into the reading community about what I read. If you look at the books I’ve read and posted on Goodreads, you’ll obviously see a lot of Christian nonfiction and fiction, but also other books that don’t seem to fit in my worldview puzzle. Again, as I learned from my parents, I read to better understand others and to be confident in the choices I make. I also choose to share my opinion of those books to help others better understand how a Christian reader and thinker views a particular work.
Because I read, I’m able to make better, more informed choices in my own life. I posted a quote by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. this month which reads, “I refuse to determine what is right by taking a Gallup poll of the trends of the time.” A well-read person can agree with this assessment by Dr. King. When we read well and widely, we are able to stand strong in our ability to discern right from wrong and live according to our values in a world full of tweets and thirty-second video rants.
May this year be the year you choose to read and make your voice heard.
Grace and Peace