This blog site is called Bookends because it’s about thoughts that have come to me after a book, or part of a book, has been read. Of course, I could just start writing each blog post without any book, and some readers might prefer if I just expressed my own feelings and opinions. There is a place for that, for sure, and I do read and like some other blogs in which the writers do exactly that, and that’s fine. But I’ve chosen to publish things a little differently, and here is why.
The best thing about books is that they take time to read. That means I won’t get through one in just a day, let alone a few minutes. Its content will stay will me for several days, allowing the thoughts and descriptions to percolate and settle and be reviewed. And I am in control of the process: I can pick up the book, flip through the pages or read beginning to end, and put it down as often as I like or need to. But what I like most about books is that, in most cases, the writers have worked hard at putting words on the page. Some of them have spent years in writing just one volume, researching, rearranging, editing and being edited, and in the end have a really creative and enjoyable product.
Now, a very practical and active person may say, “So what? It’s real life, its joys and its problems, that I care about!” And I would reply, “That’s good, and do you care enough to get it right? Is it important not to be tossed about by every wind of doctrine or every pang and pulse of feeling? Is it worth our while to get some insight into our lives instead of being influenced by an off-the-cuff remark or some gossipy myth?
What I see and hear so much of these days are cheap-shots and angry accusations. Just this past week, I followed a bit of the race for the job of Mayor of London in England. The front runner is a Muslim and his nearest rival is a Jew, and so, predictably, the general media as well as social media were full of charges of “racism” from both camps, making shouts of anti-Semitism! and Islamophobia! Yet I don’t recall hearing all that much about any actual issues of how these candidates plan to govern the city. How sadly typical of how things are these days, and not just in the realm of politics.
When I take some time, by means of a book, to think matters through a bit more than I otherwise might, some good things happen. One of these is that I enter into someone else’s world for a while and learn a bit of how he or she experiences and understands life, and how she views the world she lives in. That’s sort of a conversation, a kind of communication. Sometimes I start by not liking the writer’s outlook at all and think it’s all blarney, but instead of throwing the book away, I plug away at reading more, and then usually find myself learning something from the writer and appreciating his personal struggles.
My aim, therefore, through reading books, is to learn more about other people, past or present, and in the process learn more about myself. And that may be pleasant or it can be downright frightening, but I do find it worthwhile. I think this is something called discernment, seeing the truth behind the appearances, going beyond immediate impressions or apparent blarney, and getting a longer view that may show how things look from a different angle. It is something that leads me from point A where I am critical of various people and blame them for troubles in my life, toward the direction of point Z where I no longer criticize people but instead critique certain ideas, delusions, systems, and the evils that life is heir to.
I have always been a “front-line” kind of guy who enjoyed working directly with people, as opposed to being a keen academic who reads mostly for intellectual stimulation. But I have learned to become a life-long student of life, and rather than blog you over the head with my own strong reactions, I much prefer to write only after someone has helped me think it through a bit more.