Tag Archives: reading

Addicted to story

Hi. I’m Jon.

[hi Jon]

I wish I knew exactly when it started. As far back as I can remember, I’ve been looking at words. I have a memory, as a child, of sitting on the ground, next to the hedge where I was supposed to be cleaning out leaves and papers and stuff. I was reading a fragment of something that had blown across the yard.

I sat at the table reading cereal boxes. I read books, constantly. I read in the car. I read in the bathroom. I read under the covers when I was supposed to be sleeping.

One summer, I borrowed a whole stack of original brown Hardy Boys books from an aunt. It was wonderful.

My parents wanted me to be helpful, to play, to be normal. I read.

In high school, it got worse. My sophomore year, I discovered Tolkien. I started easy, with The Hobbit. Pretty soon, I was deep into The Lord of the Rings. I was lost. I’ve read all four books ten, maybe fifteen, maybe more times.

[be honest, please]

Okay, more. And Dorothy Sayers detective novels and C.S. Lewis’ space trilogy and parts of the Bible and on and on. But it isn’t just books and it isn’t all books. I struggle with philosophy books, but I can read the story of a year on the NASCAR circuit without a second thought. I read serious books, but I jump from example to metaphor, skipping the theory, slurping up the story.

And media.

I will actually listen to commercials, following the story. If I can hear the television while working, the dialogue draws me in. I listen to stories I don’t care about from people I don’t know. I skim through my RSS reader, skipping the headlines, seizing on the story line. I don’t waste time watching movies. I can read the plot summary and see the whole thing. Why waste time on the theatrical experience, just give me the next story?

I used to think it wasn’t a problem, that my obsession with stories didn’t hurt anyone else.

Now I see I was wrong. The hundreds of times my mother said, “are you okay in there?” The hours of other people’s time wasted when they asked a simple question and I answered with, “that reminds me of the time…” The days spent in a bleary-eyed fog after a long night of “just one more chapter.”

Here’s the problem. Being addicted to story is like being addicted to air. It is what we live on. Without it we die.

But I’m getting some help.

I’m starting meta-narrative therapy. Rather than grabbing every story I can find indiscriminately, I’m looking for how they link together, how they have threads running through. I’m starting to see that maybe the dreary text between the examples might lead to a larger level of understanding. I’m thinking that maybe, with white noise to block the dialog sometimes, I might be able to spend more time deeper.

I try to read the Bible. I’m wondering what would happen if I looked at it, not as a book of lists or rules or strange names, but as a collection of letters to a beloved.

What if God really exists and really cares about people like a groom cares about a bride? And what if the groom is a King and the bride is an abused slave girl? What if that groom wrote a bunch of letters to that bride, in the middle of her slavery, telling her that he loved her, saying what life in the court is like, telling her how to live in the courts of the King. What if he explained what happens to the people who are holding her in slavery? What if he told the stories of what love means. What if he wrote about his own love for her which caused him to give up his royal position and live in exile and die for her.

Would that slave girl look at those letters as rules or as expressions of love? Would she see a life more restrictive or a hope of freedom. Would she look in them for ways to restrict, or would she be reading them and saying to other slaves, “the prince is coming, he really does love me, he somehow smuggled food to me, he wants me.”

And what would a community that was built around love letters from the king look like?

I’m sorry. I’ve gone on too long. It’s that story thing again.

[It’s okay. You see the problem. That’s the starting point.]

You know, I wonder, sometimes, if I’ve missed the narrative for the stories.


8 ways reading a book together helps you learn

I meet monthly with a group of guys. We talk, we pray, we make decisions, we read a book. More accurately, we spend 30 minutes with one person leading the discussion of a chapter of a book. We’ve been reading the same book for more than 14 months. We finished it this week.

Because I was leading the discussion this week, I asked whether the book had made any difference for these guys in their own lives. I asked whether it had made any difference in our organizational life.

I mean, we spend more than a year reading and discussion this one book. If it didn’t make any difference, why did we do it?

Here are things that they said.

  1. All reading the same book at the same time gave a common experience. It built unity.
  2. The slow discussion which dug deeply into our lives let three new people catch up on the depth of lives of the people in the group. Three out of 10 of us were new this year.
  3. The book gave room for conversations outside the group. A couple of people had talked to other people about what they were reading.
  4. Reading slowly forced everyone to take time reading, important for different learning styles. A couple guys said that this is the kind of book they would skim in couple hours and move on.  By working slowly, the book worked on them.
  5. Our format, which had everyone take a chapter (and some of us more than one) allowed everyone to teach/lead. I say allowed, I probably mean forced. However, we all were able to lead and benefited greatly from hearing each other’s voices.
  6. In a related point, this shared leadership showed everyone that they could. Some of us are teachers, most are not. But everyone learned that they can teach.
  7. The gradual nature of the book allowed the theme (sabbath) to work its way into our hearts by sheer repetition. Long-term change takes long-term exposure.
  8. Some change is not quickly identifiable, but we know that it is happening.

It took for ever. It may have changed forever.

focus is picking

I have a stack of books to read. I have deadlines for some of them. I have personal learning needs for others of them.

I read several books at a time. I have them in every space I occupy. I carry them in my briefcase. I always have.

My problem is that by reading many, I seldom finish any. I sample and browse and skim and and lose track.

I’m realizing this week that if I want to meet my deadlines, I have to focus. I have to pick one book and finish it. And then pick another book. I’m trying to limit how many I carry with me.

I’m considering changing how I “always work” for the sake of getting something done.

So I’ll be reading The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith by Tim Keller.

Then I’ll be reading Lost and Found: The Younger Unchurched and the Churches that Reach Them by Ed Stetzer (not published yet. That’s why I have it).

Then I’ll be reading … other books.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

And I’m curious, does focus always mean one thing at a time?


Mark Forster describes the AutoFocus system which lists everything and has you pick one thing at a time. Feels friendlier to me, and less complicated, than David Allen’s Getting Things Done.