Aug 24, 2010

Reading: A Story

I went through a period last year where I didn't read very much.  I think it was during the summer, when I was in the midst of my "What in the Wild Wild World of Sports did I get myself into?" phase.  This was highly unusual for me.  I don't go through many phases of not being interested in reading.  I have always loved books - from when I was a smallish boy.  I got it from my parents.  My dad read voraciously.  One of the most indelible images of my childhood was my dad laying in bed reading books until he fell asleep.  He had hundreds and hundreds of books in his room that he had devoured.  I'm not a big fan of all the stuff he read - but he loved reading.  My mom was similar.  I can distinctly remember her sitting in her chair by the window and front door, reading something and taking notes in it.  She had her own bookshelf down in the living room, stocks with books on theology and other Biblical study books.

I married a reader, too.  Heather tells me about how she used to get in trouble for reading too late in her room.  She reads faster than I do - a great quality for a Med Student.  Her mom has a huge bookcase full of her various interests.  Heather's grandparents always were reading - as are her brothers.  And our kids are following in our footsteps.  Even our little guy, Gabe, now has gotten hooked on books.  Every night, we have to read him Go Dogs Go and Whose Nose and Toes.

All of that is to say that I don't remember a time when I avoided reading.  At some point, though, my older self took back over my big stupid self and I went on a reading tear that was unlike anything that I can remember doing in my past.  I began to notice this.  And, being the enormous wonk that I am, I decided to start tracking my book consumption.  (I'm a nerd.  This is news to you people?!?)  Here's what it looked like when the year was over.

  • In February and March, I read The Watchmen by Alan Moore at 416 pages, Tuck by Stephen Lawhead at 464 pages, and Hooked by McIlhaney & Bush at 178 pages.  Then it came to a screeching halt.
  • I didn't read anything until at least July.  That was when I started reading some books at Heather's parents' house - John Grisham in particular.  I guess it kick started things.  Starting in July, here is what happened.
  • Anger by Gary Chapman - 242 pages
  • The Associate by Grisham - 284 pages
  • Bleachers by Grisham - 192 pages
  • The Street Lawyer by Grisham - 384 pages
  • The Partner by Grisham - 416 pages
  • The Testament by Grisham - 480 pages
  • The Summons by Grisham - 304 pages (I was reading these Grisham books in one and two days - just flying through them.)
  • Samson and the Pirate Monks by Nate Larkin - 224 pages
  • The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown - 528 pages
  • The Jesus You Can't Ignore by John MacArthur - 256 pages
  • The Book of Basketball by Bill Simmons - 736 pages (yeah - like an encyclopedia - took me three weeks to slog through it)
  • Harry Potter Saga (seven books) by JK Rowling - 4324 pages (took three weeks to read all of it)
  • Psych Books: Mind over Magic by William Rabkin - 288 pages (based on the USA series)
The grand total for the year was over 9600 pages.  I know that I probably forgot something here or there, so I'm guessing I actually was up over 10,000 pages.  I don't know what I had read in years past, but I don't know if I ever had touched that total.  Well, this year I swore I would continue the process and keep reading.  So far, after almost eight months, here is where I am this year.
  • The Alchemyst by Michael Scott - 400 pages
  • Crazy Love by Francis Chan - 192 pages
  • Other Small Harry Potter Books by JK Rowling - 216 pages total
  • Another Stupid Psych Book - 284 pages
  • Percy Jackson Series (five books) by Rick Riordan - 1824 pages total
  • Game Change by John Hellemann - 464 pages
  • How to Train Your Dragon 1 & 2 by Cressida Cowell - 480 pages
  • Artemis Fowl Series (six books) by Eion Colfer  - 1700 pages
  • Circle Series (four books) by Ted Dekker - 1551 pages
  • Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry - 451 pages
  • The Rise and Fall of Darth Vader by Ryder Windham - 224 pages
  • Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan - 528 pages
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo  by Stieg Larsson - 644 pages
  • Against Medical Advice by James Patterson - 284 pages
I've already read 9500 pages this year.  And I already have the second Stieg Larsson book waiting.  Plus I've started several other books that are ones I pick up, read a few chapters, and lay back down.  That means that in the last thirteen months, I have read about 18,000 pages!  That's is a lot!  After all of that, here are a few observations that I have come up with - about myself and books in general.
  • Some of you have probably noticed there are not a lot of "Christian" books on that list.  It used to be that all my reading was in the "Christian Living" or "Christian Topics" sections of the bookstore.  In this last explosion of books, I can see nine that would even be sold in a Lifeway Store.  I have tried to figure out what happened with all of that, even talking to my good buddy David Tarkington - pastor at First Baptist Orange Park - to see what he thought.  I think part of it is that I am not in church work now.  So I don't have a desire to read a bunch of books on that, like I used to when I worked for the church.  Second, I often will read books that have something to do with Defender Ministries, but those rarely are "Christian" books.  There aren't a ton of "Christian" books out there that deal with the stuff we work with.  When a good one comes along (like Samson and the Pirate Monks) I read it.
  • Furthermore, I have kind of gotten a little tired of a lot of the "Christian" titles out there - at least the approach that I have begun to see take root in the Christian publishing world.  A lot of books seem like they were generated by a sermon series.  That series is then turned into a book.  I know this happens all the time because big famous Christian authors do it (Stanley, Swindoll, and MacArthur - to name a few).  Also I talked to a pastor before about doing that very thing with his sermons.  The problem is, a lot of times that is enough information to generate about two-thirds of a book.  So you kind of figure out where everything is going and there just seems to be a lot of fluff and repetition to fill up a full sized book.  Then it is just fluffy and repetitive.  Very much repeating and fluff.  See how annoying that is?  I still keep my eyes open for good books in that realm.  But I probably should be in there a bit more.
  • "Young Readers" literature is fun to read.  So far, I have tackled part of all of seven different series that would be classified as "children's books."  Let me be perfectly honest - they are just as well written as John Grisham books and just as challenging.  I found it humorous that he actually put out a book in this genre this year.  It would basically be a normal John Grisham book, but probably with less cursing and adult situations.  They are far better than stuff like the Psych books I wasted my time reading.  They are usually fast paced, interesting, and don't have a lot of the language, violence, and sex that so many books struggle with.  And some of them, like the Harry Potter series, are far better than the vast majority of literature out there.
  • Non-fiction books can be just as exciting as fiction.  I always steered away from non-fiction books.  Maybe it was the bad memories of my college years when I had to read countless volumes of those type of books.  I don't know.  But I also avoided documentary films.  Lately, though, I have found that I have thoroughly enjoyed numerous non-fiction tomes.  The Book of Basketball by Bill Simmons was immensely fascinating - even though it was a beast to work through.  The book Game Change, about the last Presidential election, was even better than most thrillers.  I couldn't put it down.  And I blew the heart-rending Against Medical Advice by James Patterson today.  It was about a boy who battled OCD, Tourettes, and Anxiety Disorder and how his family struggled to find a cure.  Gripping and fast paced.
  • The latest "big reputation" novel I finished was The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  It was brilliantly written, very intelligent, and hard to put down.  It also was very hard to stomach.  It dealt with the hunt for a murderer and dealt with issues of rape, abuse, and incest.  There were scenes that made me want to put the book away for good.  The book was just too good to abandon.  The other thing that kept me going was that the author interspersed the story with stats about how common those things are in Sweden (where he is from and the book is set).  It is truly heartbreaking that evil of that sort exists - especially on that scope.  But the book itself was just an amazingly crafted work.
  • One of things that I am learning through all of this reading is how to be a better storyteller.  This is something that I see in myself - the ability and desire to communicate stories about life, God, the world.  I think it is a noble calling that has existed as long as man has.  I love writing, teaching communicating messages through graphic work.  I also want to write books.  I have several started, but need to work harder on them.  Over the last twelve months I basically have been in a crash course with some of the best authors in the business.  JK Rowling, John Grisham, James Patterson, Stieg Larsson, Bill Simmons, Ted Dekker, Dave Barry.  I have seen how they craft stories that enthrall.  And they also can sustain a long term series of books.  I feel I have actually grown as a writer by reading these other writers.  It is almost like I have been in school.  
That all being said, there may be some changes in my blogs.  I have been thinking about the direction I want to take both this blog and the Darth Fatso site.  The other day, I looked into WordPress.  They have a better way of organizing blogs - where I could host both under one roof.  I am still thinking about what all I want to do, but that may be something that happens sooner rather than later.  I, of course, will let you know.  Just keep reading.

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