At the end of 2016, I read a great article in the Wall Street Journal titled "The Need to Read" by Will Schwalbe. The article was an excerpt from his book Books for Living. Schwalbe encourages us to ask one another more often: What are you reading? He offers a compelling anecdote to illustrate the power of literature and how books can bring us together, despite our differences.
If you love to read, you have to get on Goodreads. It’s like Facebook except all your friends are talking about books instead of politics – pretty great, right? You can see what your friends are reading/reviewing, add books to a “want to read” list, set a goal of how many books you want to read this year (which is oddly motivating for me when I get to add another one to how many I’ve “achieved” this year) – it will even recommend books you might enjoy based on your past preferences and let you know when one of your favorite authors has a new release coming out. I might be a total nerd, but it’s one of my favorite forms of social media
The "want to read" list on my Goodreads account seems to keep getting longer by the day (350 as of this writing) and every year I set a goal to read at least 12 books. If I can't finish 1 book per month, then something is truly wrong with my priorities. I am not a fast reader despite my mom enrolling me in speed reading classes in high school, however, I also love taking the time to savor a great piece of literature and to discuss it with other people during the time I’m reading it. I share what I’m learning from the book and it usually sparks a great conversation on relevant current affairs or important topics (hint: Will Schwalbe’s point exemplified).
I love asking people about what they're reading - it's how I get some of my best recommendations and learn more about those people in their answers. Not just from the genre or subject matter of their book recommendation, but from their interpretations, feelings, and responses to that subject matter.
I just finished The Secret Wisdom of the Earth by Christopher Scotton. I have been so moved by this book that it’s hard for me to believe it is his first novel. Some chapters left me so uncomfortable or moved that I felt like I was carrying the weight of the characters’ burdens with me to work the next day. And any book that makes you want to plan your next vacation in rural Kentucky must be pretty phenomenal, right?
The book is set in the fictional town of Medgar, KY in the 1980s. I don’t want to give too much away, but you start off meeting a family that is grieving from a recent loss, then you meet a town grieving from loss, then you meet a people, a region, a culture grieving from the loss of their way of life, their traditions, their livelihood, their sacred spaces.
A good friend recommended this book to me who also recommended last year’s best-selling memoir, Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance. There are some common themes between the two books, mostly about the people from the Appalachian region of our country and what they are experiencing in a changing world.
I will admit that I do not know many people from this part of the country. On the face of it all (especially looking at the 2016 election results maps), it would be easy for me to assume that I’m extremely different from “those people.” But when you put a face to “those people” and come to understand them on an individual level, you realize just how much we have in common, despite our political differences.
At the end of the day, we’re all trying the best we know how to do what we believe is right. And if we could just talk to each other about how we get there – not demonizing each other on social media, listening to all the yelling on cable news, or making assumptions about people, individuals that we don’t really personally know – I think we’d finally start to move away from all this “party politics” and get back to the work of community building.
So thank you Will Schwalbe for encouraging us to start these conversations. Now I'd like to ask you: What are you reading?