Saturday, November 29, 2008

Northwest Cozy?

This looks like one house but it is three. Why so harmoniously similar? Is it a sign of family resemblance or a Northwest thing?

At any rate the family have been redecorating their homes with similar results: upping the coziness factor. Here's Meg's studio, the new rugs and wood floor (and not so new dog) at Mom & Doug's, and the kitchen in Dad & Jennie's new house.

I think it's partially the weather. If you live in the Northwest (instead of a place like Colorado with 300 days of sunshine a year) you want to have a house that is a nest. Lots of wood, warm colors, favorite knickknacks. Some place where you'd enjoy drinking coffee/tea and reading books, which are among our favorite past-times.

We - the roommate and I - may be doing some redecorating here, though not right away. New carpet this summer, and that's a good excuse to downsize our couch collection (three seems too much!). Due for another coat of paint on the walls as well.

We're starting with a small step sometime in the next week, I expect, when we hope to acquire a decorator cat. Tentatively named Lucy (after the Peanuts character, not the Penvensie), but that will depend on its coloring and cat-onality.

Drug out the Christmas decorations a few days ago, but we haven't put them up yet. The roommate likes to play the leading role, and she's come down with a rather horrid cold. So the cat and the Christmas tree will probably have to wait.

Gradual Dazzle

Why is it I so often think of something worth writing down when I cannot? I’ll be driving, or in the shower, or cooking a meal, when something clicks. My mind often working best (loosening a knotty problem for example) when it’s quietly running in the background. Turning my full attention to something is sometimes just the thing, but other times causes the brain to freak out a bit. It’s like having a conversation with someone who is socially maladjusted, who stares at you and stands too close.

If I try to completely relax, that’s not good either. The feverish thoughts of a sleepless night seldom hold much insight. A friend of mine recently said, "guys can just go to the street called Oblivion...." I know women who can do that too, and men who can't, so it's a bit of a stereotype. I'm not like that, at any rate. Throw me for a loop and I tend to "stay thrown" for a good while.

The trick to getting to the place where things click is that you have to be awake, alert, and focusing on something that doesn’t require too much thinking.

Tell all the Truth but tell it slant -
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth's superb surprise
As Lightening to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind –

Recognize those words? They’re from Emily Dickinson.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Something to Bring to the Table

Heard on the radio that many people consider the biggest culinary challenge of making that Thanksgiving feast is... the pie crust! Funny, isn't it, how we have such complementary strengths/skills and weaknesses/insecurities.

Sometimes those weaknesses, ours or someone else's, can seem so painful and frustrating. Yet weakness is a gift in its own way (see 2 Corinthians). And often enough, we can instead focus on ours or others' strengths.

This is the beauty of potluck; each one brings what they do best. And with Great-Aunt Lois' Perfect Pie Crust recipe at hand, I find my part as easy as pie. This time, pumpkin (of course) and raspberry sour cream. Yum!

I did, by the way, attend a 'Thanksgiving Eve' service at church (I mentioned below that this can be problematic for me). No problem. It was good. But it helps to think and talk through the potential emotional pitfalls in advance.

I'm thankful for quite a few things about this remarkable life I've been given. You know, ever since the tower of Babel the human family has been divided by language and geography. Yet God's fingerprints are on every person, and it's not really difficult to find the family resemblances, no matter who you're with - if you have eyes to see.

This summer I had rich, fascinating conversations with both Muslims and Christians in Southeast Asia; they shared their lives with me. This week I spoke, "chatted" or corresponded with people in half a dozen countries, and sent the ezine to people all over the world. Yesterday, running errands around town, I made a new friend and ran into some old friends also out shopping. Each person has a story to tell, something to give, and chances are there's some way I can come alongside them as well. I love that.

Guess what? I was too tired to make my pie crusts yesterday and now, turning on the parade, making coffee, and rolling up sleeves to start baking, I discover we're out of shortening. I'm thankful Safeway is open today - off I go!

Monday, November 24, 2008

What Are You Grateful For / Would You Rather?

In the US we celebrate a Thanksgiving holiday this week. I have ambiguous feelings about this occasion (see my Thanksgiving post from 2006). You wouldn't think there would be that much about it that could be ambiguous, would you, unless, say, it falls near the death or anniversary of the death of a loved one. Who would not love Thanksgiving?

Aside from some minor gluttony it's a pretty untarnished holiday. I usually get to spend relaxed, satisfying time with people I really like and often meet some new people as well, and there's plenty of time to hang out, and a spirit of love, and gratitude, and good stuff like that, and there's usually leftover pumpkin pie.

It's Not About the Food

But sometimes I balk at the part that occurs in so many Thanksgiving gatherings where people talk about how thankful they are for their family. It's not that I don't have any family, or that my family doesn't love me - they do. But the core definition of family, for someone in their 30s, is usually, "my spouse and my kids," and I don't have those.

Yes, I'm foolish and small-minded: I don't like to be reminded that what other people consider the very most important, wonderful aspect of their lives lies behind a door that (thus far) has been closed to me.

It stirs up this question within me: Is it really possible to have a full, meaningful life if that life does not include that which most people find filling and giving meaning to their lives? I have my doubts. My feelings could go either way on that, depending on the day.

Generally, though, I have to say yes. The fact that some of the most wonderful or happiest people have been single seems pretty solid evidence that being married (and having kids) is not "necessary."

My friend Fiona shared some good thoughts about this well in her recent post on singleness. She says that singleness includes an invitation to that of which marriage is but a reflection...

Would You Rather?

For me the question, "Do you want to be married, or are you glad to be single?" is a complicated one. I suppose there are many singles who would say, yes, definitely, if I had my way I'd be married, that's what I'd prefer. But when someone makes the assumption one way or the other about me I feel slightly guilty, thinking, what have I said to give the wrong impression - that for sure I would rather be married, or that I'm quite content in my singleness? Neither is entirely true. For me it's one of those slightly impossible "would you rather" questions.

And after all, it is a rather abstract, unanswerable question, because every marriage is somewhat different. Nobody gets married "in general," we enter into very specific contracts of marriage with an actual person. And "Would you rather be married to _________ or be single?" is not a question I have to answer (and probably should not try to) unless ________ asks, "will you marry me?"

A MORE impossible version of the 'married or single' question, one people in our culture seldom ask (though I've often had it in other countries), is "Why aren't you married?" Who can answer "why" questions with total confidence? One can come up with all kinds of theories for ourselves or others, but are they really true? Is singleness a decision I made, or a series of decisions, or something that happened to me (or didn't!)?


I did realize recently that I cannot remember the last time I held a baby in my arms. Two years ago? Three? Now that is a problem. And surely there is something I can do about it!

See all posts on the topic of singleness, here.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Where Did My Generation Go?

Back in the 1990's - my 20's - I heard a lot about Generation X. I even wrote for a magazine designed just for X'ers. There were books, conferences, articles, you name it. I recently heard a friend describe himself as a GenXer and realized it was a term I had not heard for a long time.

What happened to Generation X? We're still here - the people I mean. Are we not a meaningful grouping, after all? Do we have no specific needs or attributes?

Do we have any specialty to bring to the generation potluck or are we, just, well, X?

I ask, because some of these other generations, like Millenials, are still happenin'. So are Baby Boomers.

Maybe generationally focused thinking gets the most press when it describes the "latest" generation: those in their teens and twenties. Even though descriptions of them may have more to do with their age than their generation.

Any thoughts? See also a recent article on the topic in Forbes.

Monday, November 17, 2008


Sunday I had a sad parting with a book I borrowed through the inter-library loan system, a volume called What Has Christianity Ever Done for Us? How It Shaped the Modern World, by Jonathan Hill. It’s a book for browsing more than for reading, so while I took in quite a bit of it, I didn’t finish it. Maybe I’ll put it on my wish list.

One of the last things I read was about the medieval mystic known as Julian of Norwich (b. 1342, d. 1416). Actually, that wasn’t really her name, “St. Julian’s” was the name of the church she was part of (literally; see below). How would you like that? Enough to make you join “Grace Fellowship” instead of “Calvary Road Baptist"!

Julian was an anchoress. No, that’s not a lady who hosts the evening news, and it has nothing to do with boats. An anchoress is an unmarried woman (not necessarily a nun) who attaches herself to a community, generally living in a small chamber attached to the church. Actually, she’s supposed to be walled in. It’s a pretty serious commitment. Apparently, they even performed a mass for the dead for you when you became an anchoress!

But that’s only the beginning, not the end, of such a life. Julian may have been a hermit of sorts but it seems to have been her job description to focus on drawing near to God, praying for her community, and giving counsel to those who came to consult her about their thoughts and affairs. In a lot of ways she was right in the middle of things. And she wrote a book about a series of visions she had, 'Revelations of Divine Love.'

Probably the most well-known of Julian's revelations had to do with what looked like a small, brown nut - a hazelnut. The universe is like this nut, God told her: a small thing, compared to its creator. But what's God's attitude toward his creation? He made it. He loves it. Therefore it stays. He keeps it.


In Julian’s day, no respectable city was without an anchoress. Would that we were so well “anchored” today!

Julian also lived in dark times - a great plague was sweeping Europe. Taxes soared, harvests were terrible, confusion and persecution were rampant. The people of "St. Julian's" needed the hope, the joy, the love that Lady Julian found in the life and revelations (as well as common sense) God had given her, and that's what she shared with the people who came.

"All shall be well
And all shall be well
And all manner of thing
Shall be well."

You can read about why Julian is often pictured with a cat, here. The image above is by Br. Robert Lentz and is available here.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Supplemental Hot Water Heater

I believe I've found a good method to get enough hot water for a decent bath, seeing as the hot water heater in our house is not up to the task. What do you think? Tried it Saturday night.

Effectiveness: Worked like a charm. Just the right size.

Safety: Medium. An urn of boiling water should be handled with care.

Cost: Cheap; about $30 for a new one (but free at the moment, since I borrowed a seldom-used one from the office for testing purposes!)

Convenience: Medium. Yes, it takes a good 20 minutes to heat up, but you can just fill it, plug it in, and go do something else. That beats a whistling tea kettle.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Some Days You Gotta Dance

The roommate gave me some new kitchen stuff for my birthday, along with a JT album to listen to while baking - yes, that's right, James Taylor. It's his latest, recorded at the beginning of this year, and includes a cover of this song which I'm comin' to like... know it?

It was about five 'til five on Friday
We were all getting ready to go
And the boss man started screaming
and his veins began to show
He said you and you come with me
'cause you're gonna have to stay
My heart was thumping I was jumping
I had to get away

Some days you gotta dance
Live it up when you get the chance
'Cause when the world doesn't make no sense
And you're feeling just a little too tense
Gotta loosen up those chains and dance

Well I was talking with my baby
over a small glass of tea
He asked the loaded question
He said now how do you feel about me
My mind was racin' I was pacin'
but the words just wouldn't come
And there was only one thing
left to do I feel it comin' on

Some days you gotta dance
Live it up when you get the chance
'Cause when the world doesn't make no sense
And you're feeling just a little too tense
Gotta loosen up those chains and dance a ha

Some days you gotta dance
Live it up when you get the chance
'Cause when the world doesn't make no sense
And you're feeling just a little too tense
Gotta loosen up those chains and dance

You gotta loosen up those chains and dance
Come on and loosen up those chains and dance

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Blogging Break

Feel free to leave comments, but don't expect any postings this week. I have some other priorities that need focused attention.

Will open for business again next week.

Later: Wednesday, and have I so much as touched those priorities? Focus, who am I kidding? If you pray, pray for me. Maybe this battle, the battle to balance being responsive and responsible, is one I will fight all of my life. But right now I feel so powerless and ineffective. Still meditating on Psalm 16 - on recognizing and being grateful for one's lot and life - and Psalm 18 - on fighting battles against (and destroying) one's enemies through the strength provided by God.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Simple Solutions: The Hot Tub & The Tea Kettle

As those of you who know me well will realize, I love simple, clean solutions to problems, but I am apt to only recognize them after exploring and rejecting (or deferring) the grand, complicated, impractical ones. Only sometimes it can be so hard to let go...

Let me give you an example. I think you’ll see how this also addresses, to some extent, the take-a-sabbatical-vs.-just-stop-staying-so-late-at-work question.

I hate being cold, and especially trying to sleep when I feel cold, tense, or dirty. There’s nothing like a good soak in a considerable amount of hot water to take care of all of that and leave me relaxed. When I visit my parents I take advantage of the luxury of sitting in the jacuzzi each evening.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a hot tub at my place, too? I’d really like that. Sigh… Well, it doesn’t seem awfully likely. It's not at all practical.

In the kind of work I do we don’t get equal pay for equal work. We set our own salaries - within approved ranges but generally based on need. Skills, experience, and job title don't really factor in. I find that rather freeing, actually, but one result is that I make a lot less money than my married-with-children colleagues. They take home salaries in the same ballpark as public-school teachers. I could ask for more than I’m getting, but it’s hard to justify, in my own mind, living on more than I actually need. After all, my salary depends on the donations of others. People sacrifice to support me. As such... well, I live pretty happily on my chosen, low, salary. But saving up enough money to put in a hot tub at home, and justifying the expense, that's another thing all together.

Besides, we (roommate Deb and I) don’t own the house; it’s a rental. It does appear we are going to stay a while, but it isn’t our own place. Who pays for expensive, non-portable improvements to their rental property? Don't get me wrong, I'm happy to pay rent. It's a much smarter thing in my situation than to buy. Someday I may have to move, and then I'd consider getting a condo. But at present such a decision would be foolish. I really like living in a house, having a yard, a garage, a basement, a roommate, and guest room. Why pay twice as much for half the perks and square-footage? I can do better with other kinds of investments. So, I continue to rent, not because I'm poor but because I'm thrifty.

But I digress.

You know what’s almost as good as a hot tub, and even better in some ways? A hot bath.

I used to take a hot bath most every night, year round. I got out of the habit somewhat when one of my roommates – who has since moved on – decided she, in fact, required a bath every night. She was studying massage therapy and seemed to have a medical need for a good soak after such physical work, but I still found it pretty irritating. She had her own bathroom downstairs (just without a tub). There wasn’t enough water for two baths, even though she preferred hers pretty lukewarm.

M. moved out, but it’s still a bit of trouble to take a bath. Our hot water heater, 20+ years old, started leaking, rusted out, and had to be replaced. When we shopped around to replace it we discovered it was a strange, now-discontinued design. Relocating the heater, putting in an on-demand unit, and similar solutions were quite a bit more expensive. The only affordable way to replace it was to put in one that holds 30% less water. At least, that’s the decision our (otherwise extremely generous) landlady made.

So now we don’t have enough hot water. The only way to get enough for a bath is to fill both our teakettles to the brim and put them on the stove until they whistle, while turning the hot water in the tub full blast and letting it run until it starts to cool (then turn it off - quickly!). Put together, our kettles and hot water heater can – barely – produce what’s necessary for a comfortable bath.

This seems like enough work to me that I seldom do it. But I can.

So every time I start to feel sorry for myself about not being able to afford a hot tub, I realize I can still take a bath. That’s still some trouble, but almost as good, and much, much cheaper. And I’m pretty sure if I shopped around I could even get a large-capacity electric kettle, or a heating coils like they use in Asia, to replace the two-kettles-on-the-stove method. [Later note: here's what I found.]

All this is a reminder to me: I may never get what seems the ideal solution to whatever problem I have – but that doesn’t mean there’s no consolation. Before I give in to self-pity or complaining, I can open my eyes and look for the second-best, not-quite-as-graceful solution that might be right in front of me. The simple solution. Instead of longing what I cannot have, or would not really choose in light of the implications of the choice.

See also: Material World (February 2007)

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Personal Development, Continued: On Pulling Away

So then, what helps us grow deeper - according to our spiritual director this week, James Emery White? If you missed the past two posts, you'll have to go back!

As you might expect, White recommends taking a daily retreat from the demands of one’s life for silence, meditation, reflection, prayer, surrender. Such a practice, he quotes Francis de Sales as saying, can be like gathering a bouquet of four or five flowers to keep and take a whiff of throughout the day. Nice.

Monthly, Annually

White quotes another writer who recommends an all-day retreat at least once a month, a longer withdrawal of 36-48 hours perhaps twice a year, and suggests that finally, regardless of profession, we need annual sabbaticals.

Is this a bit head-in-the-clouds? After all, who gets sabbaticals? Precious few people. Though most of us do get paid vacation; it could be used any number of ways. And leave-without-pay might be an option few would consider, but still an option.

In terms of regular retreats, White says he began escaping monthly to a bed-and-breakfast in the mountains. “On the front end I would have told you that it was impossible to put this into my life. Looking back, it is unthinkable not to have it.” Hmmm.

My friend Paula recently spoke about this at the church she’s part of in Portland. I played the first 20 minutes of the “conversation” she and her pastor had, for our morning prayer time at the office. (You can listen to it here). Paula used to do campus ministry, now leads spiritual retreats for other people who are "in ministry." She’s a worship leader, too, and in fact has made it her job to help people find refreshment. Nice gig, eh?

Paula mentioned in passing that the organization she was part of for decades had a policy requiring staff to take a half day, monthly, to get away and spend time focusing on the Lord. I like that. I proposed such a plan to our staff as well. (The ones most empowered to make such a decision were not present, unfortunately.)


For some time I have been thinking it would be nice to have another sabbatical, perhaps at the end of the seven-year period following my last one. I began vocational ministry in 1994, and spent 2002 on sabbatical. I’d like to do the same for a good chunk of 2010.

Few professions allow this, it is true. Mine does. As I recall, our parent-agency’s policy is to allow (encourage, sometimes mandate) four months’ sabbatical following ten years of ministry. I’d like to ask for more. What I have in mind is not four months of family time and fishing trips, but something more along the lines of personal/professional/educational development, and probably nothing that could be done in four months.

One reason I'm thinking about this is that people are lining up now with projects that if they came to fruition would require a lot of my attention in 2010. So, I figure I need to say so a year in advance if I'm taking more than a few months off.

Smaller Steps

If I’m honest with myself, though, I have to recognize that my ambition to take a sabbatical is a bit out of step with the way I live my life on a more day-to-day basis. In the last year I’ve worked an average of 47 hours a week, and I only took 70% of my vacation/holiday time in the last year. Could be worse, but could also be better. Perhaps my soul would be in healthier shape if I stopped thinking as much about the sabbatical idea and took some smaller steps, like going home at 5 p.m. a bit more often.

A friend of mine recently reviewed a 2003 book, When It’s Rush Hour All Day Long: Finding Peace in a Hurry-Sick World, by John W. Tadlock. Describes me quite well:

"One of the more serious costs of hurry sickness is the exercise of poor judgment…Too often people choose paths that are counterproductive to emotional and spiritual wholeness. Fatigue reduces our critical faculties…" We lean toward impulsive decisions. (p. 53)

Read more excerpts from Tadlock's book here.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Chocolates for the Truly Reformed

I was going to post my next bit about soul care today, but I give you instead this item I came across while working (really):
Chocolates Mark 500 Years of Calvin in a Taste of 'Paradise'

Geneva (ENI). Swiss chocolatier Blaise Poyet believes he has captured the essence of the Protestant reformer Jean Calvin in special chocolate pralines he created to mark the 500th anniversary of the religious figure who made his mark on European history.

"It's not easy to represent theological ideas by using the taste buds," acknowledges Poyet, a master chocolatier from Maison Poyet in Vevey, 80 kilometres (50 miles) from Geneva, where the French-born reformer lived and worked. "But the key thing for Calvin is the glory of God, his excellence, his perfection. So we chose a chocolate that we chocolatiers find exceptional, rare and flawless."

The first layer is based on a classic smooth and runny praline mix. "But we have 'reformed' it," says the Vevey chocolatier, by using crunchy caramelised hazelnuts, and using salt from the Swiss Alps to make the praline slightly savoury.

The second layer uses a "chocolate Grand Cru from Bolivia", made from 68 percent cocoa paste, to represent Calvin's theology of the glory and perfection of God.

"It is a real pleasure," Poyet says of the Bolivian chocolate. "Paradise indeed."

Some historians have noted Calvin was not always an easy person, yet "it is undeniable that in his actions, he demonstrated exceptional tenderness," recounts Poyet. "So we have used a caramel made from Swiss cream that that slightly softens the chocolate to represent in a discreet way this love for one's neighbour."

Finally, a taste of lemon verbena, a perennial, represents Calvin's ability to sow, to plant and to make things grow.

Full story here. (Calvin09 chocolates for sale here.)
Perhaps I'm letting my total depravity show to say so, but I find myself salivating and reluctant to return to the task at hand...

Monday, November 03, 2008

Personal Development: Deepening Our Souls

Yesterday’s post on reading was much easier to write than this one. I’ve always been one whose knowledge outstripped her performance, whose competence exceeded her character. Living with integrity is much harder than knowing what to do. But there’s one great trick to personal development that is so effective, it’s amazing that it is so seldom tried.

It’s simply this: to look to the one who made us, our designer. Really, if life feels out of control, who are you going to cry out to? Once I was preparing a teaching on prayer and intended to pass on all kinds of tips on prayer etiquette, do's and dont's. As I opened up the Bible - well, that book is just full of surprises, isn't it? I discovered that God was a lot less picky than I am. He doesn't go around grading people's prayers. He accepts them, and responds.

One of the best words of advice ever offered, says my old friend Paula (more from her tomorrow), came from a mother (of course!). You may know her. Her name was Mary. The words she spoke to the servants at that wedding in Cana ring out loud and clear:

“Whatever he (Jesus) says, do it.”

This requires cultivating the arts of listening, asking, praying, seeking – and yeah, responding and obeying.

Spirituality and Soul Care

Let's step back a bit to some principles my non-Christian readers will be able to appreciate as well. (You guys are very patient. I appreciate it!)

In Serious Times, James Emery White quotes St. Francis de Sales – sort of a sixteenth-century “Dear Abby” who served as spiritual director to hundreds if not thousands of Catholics mostly through his correspondence. I have kept his Introduction to the Devout Life on my bookshelf since college days but haven’t pulled it down for some time.

“It is true, my dear reader, that I write about the devout life although I myself am not devout,” says Francis.

I think many of us can identify with that. We don’t have a sense of “being” spiritual people, of having arrived in any sense - just of being hungry for that kind of life. We know that anything really worthwhile and life-giving which we might have to pass along to anyone else depends on having our inner reservoirs filled up one way or another. Isn't that true?

I find – do you? That in spite of my fascination with the various disciplines of what you might call “soul care” – mental health, counseling, healing prayer, and the like – when it comes to myself, I keep such things at arm’s length. I take very little care for my own soul. I think perhaps I believe, subconsciously, that I’m a pretty poor specimen and not worthy of such pampering!

Funny how silly our assumptions, especially the ones that sicken or cripple us, sound if we actually put them into words, isn’t it? Because of course to what extent I am a mess it is an argument to pay more attention to matters of mental/emotional/spiritual health, not less.

So, what can we do? What steps can we take to become healthier, stronger, more mature than we currently are?

I’m going to leave you hanging; this is getting too long. Come back tomorrow for some practical suggestions. But feel free to leave your thoughts on the above – or advice – before seeing what our pal White has to say. I appreciate your feedback.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Personal Development: On Reading

There are two sections from Serious Times, that James Emery White book I mentioned last week, about which (if you’ll humor me) I’d like to reflect on a bit further – one is on “developing our minds” and the other on “deepening our souls.” I’m going to try following the pattern of my friend Paul and prepare my week’s blog posts in advance. So check back. I’ve spent a rather pleasant couple of hours at Starbucks writing a series of ~500-word (somewhat sloppy) essays for you this week. Here’s the first.

Developing Our Minds (quotes from Serious Times, pp. 107-8)

“There is no substitute for reading,” says White. “So where do we begin? How can we become active readers in the midst of the frantic pace of our lives? It’s tempting to view the act of sitting down with a book – much less many books – as a luxury afforded those with unique schedules or privileged positions in life. In truth it is available to us all.”

He begins by talking about how full of books his house is – they are stacked everywhere. Well, books are not cheap; I’d argue that the acquisition of many books is indeed a sign of luxury and privilege. And having books around you and with you wherever you go does not accomplish the development of one’s mind, by osmosis! I remember in high school and college carrying around vast amounts of homework with me whenever I went somewhere for the weekend. Somehow just carrying the stuff around seemed like it was worth some credit. But much of the time I just got sore from a heavy backpack. I'm afraid I still do this with my work, lugging folders back and forth between home and office!

White gives helpful tips on finding time to read and adds this key point, quoting one of his many books which quotes another: “If a man wants to read good books, he must make a point of avoiding bad ones; for life is short and time and energy limited.” (Arthur Shopenhauer, in Some Forms of Literature, quoted in Adler/Van Doren’s Great Treasury of Western Thought, quoted in White’s Serious Times, now quoted by me!)

An aside here, have you ever noticed how very many books, especially by those who see themselves primarily as writers and academics – are composed primarily of lines lifted out of other books? Perhaps it’s due, at times, to the insistence in the academic world that one not say anything without providing evidence and footnotes. Other realms of communication could be improved by this discipline, though it does seem overdone at times. Well assembled, a meal composed of previously served ingredients can be delightful.

Does seem like cheating, though, sometimes. I think I too could be a good writer if I didn’t have to write, merely had to recognize good stuff when I see it. Well, this is I guess exactly what I do as a journalist/ethnographer – only, often what I pass on comes from the lips, not the pens, of those who truly have something to say. So I guess it isn’t any different.

At any rate, the chapter also quotes Francis Bacon, who said, “Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.”

It’s true, isn’t it? Not every book requires or is worth a deep reading. Learning to read quickly, to put aside what need not be finished, while savoring and re-reading what is more worthwhile: This is a significant part of how we develop our minds.