When I was a teenager, a woman at church told me that anything I didn’t consciously do for God was a sin. For example, I could save a child from drowning. But if I didn’t actively praise God while I did it, it was just another transgression. God gets what God wants, and God is hungry for GLORY. (Kind of sounds like our new President, actually).
My church also told me that the experience of pleasure outside of conscious praise or gratitude to God was a particular type of sin: idolatry. “Don’t love the blessing more than the Blesser,” I was told. If the enjoyment of a thing led my conscious thoughts from God, that thing was to be removed from my life. “If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away.”
Finally, my church taught me that anything that criticized Christianity, or raised questions about a “Christ-centered worldview”, or enticed me to entertain thoughts other than the ones provided for me by my church community, was directly from Satan himself.
So, all this bad theology led me to make a choice I still regret to this day: One afternoon, I threw away all of my non-Christian books and music. You know, to get the demons out of my bedroom. Where they could attack me in my sleep. I still mourn the loss of my first copy of Hamlet, with all my markings and exclamations that recorded the awe I felt as I first began to understand its genius.
For me, reading whatever the hell I want is not just a normal pastime. It is spiritual resistance. I read what I like, from Tolstoy to Outlander, and don’t apologize.
On that note, here’s what I read in February! I read 7 books last month, down from 12 in January (but in January I had a long stretch of days with literally nothing I had to do, and in February my mom visited for a week so I didn’t think about books as much).
A Gentleman In Moscow, 2/6. This was my favorite read of the month, even though for no discernible reason it took me forever to finish. I adored Towles’ first novel, Rules Of Civility, which was like The Great Gatsby with more feminists and just as flawless writing. This latest novel, about a Russian count who spends his adulthood under house arrest in a hotel in Moscow, was just as charming and sophisticated. And funnier than the last novel.
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, 2/7. I downloaded this on Audible impulsively. I was browsing the Audible website, since I had several credits saved up, when I saw that Nick Offerman (!!) had done the narration for this one. I don’t remember consciously deciding to download it; it just happened. ZERO regrets. Offerman is the perfect choice.
Harry Potter And The Cursed Child, 2/7. Jeez. It would be easier to review this book with emojis. The sad ones. This was, as we say in biblical studies, deuterocanonical at best.
A Study In Charlotte, 2/13 (YA novel). Impulse buy at Target (went there for makeup, got a book instead, so it feels like a feminist choice?). Ever wondered what Sherlock Holmes would be like if he were a teenage girl? Let me tell you: FABULOUS. Strangely, Holmes’ character made even more sense this way. This novel worked for me, and I’ll pick up the sequel.
The Christians, 2/15. I really enjoyed this play about a megachurch pastor who stops believing in hell, but clearly shouldn’t have ever been a pastor because he exhibits no communication or management skills. The fallout is both fun and poignant to watch.
Behind Her Eyes, 2/19. If you like your thrillers to be heavy on sociopaths and light on reality, and you also like mind-bending twist endings, pick this up and cancel all your plans. And don’t finish it after dark.
Being Mortal, 2/23. My mom read this twice and gave it to me, and I’m so glad she did. While this book was interesting and readable, it also felt important. After I finished, my mom and I had a good conversation about end of life care, both from ethical and practical standpoints. I feel better equipped already to deal with the realities of life and death in my own family.
What have you been reading lately?