Category Archives: literature

Wednesday Reads: "addiction" edition

(noun) the fact or condition of being addicted to a particular substance, thing, or activity

Hello, my name is Alicia and I’m a book-a-holic. It started out as a simple interest in Dick and Jane and then I moved on to harder stuff like Curious George. Then one morning I woke up with The Scarlet Letter smushed against my face.  A sign that it had been a long night of….reading once again.

Throughout my book-addiction years, friends have questioned my obsession. Why read so much? Why read fiction?  Isn’t non-fiction at least a better use of time? Speaking of time, how do you find time to read? Is there any fiction out there really worth reading? I have a great answer for each of those questions, but it might be better if I put it this way: there six reasons why reading fiction is always a valuable use of your precious time.

Reading fiction…

1. Makes you smarter.   We learn things in books that we may never spend time studying.  For example, Charles Martin’s book When Crickets Cry indirectly teaches his readers about cardio-thoracic surgeons and heart transplantation.  After reading this book, the reader as a greater understanding of not only the scientific element of medically treating the heart, but a deeper emotional understanding of the heart.

  • Beverly Lewis books teach about the ever-intriguing yet simple life of the Amish.
  • John Grisham and James Scott Bell increase a reader’s understanding of the world of courts, trials, lawyers, and defendants.

2. Teaches us to walk in someone else’s shoes.  Now, if you happen to be reading an Ashley Stockingdale novel, those might be Gucci shoes. But seriously, characters in novels have struggles.  Sometimes we understand those struggles and sometimes they are foreign to us.   
However, simply learning about that character benefits us in two ways. First, we can identify with the character that struggles as we do.  We might learn to overcome that struggle because the character does. Or we might learn to accept our struggle and ourselves simply because we find a character to sympathize with.  Secondly, we can gain a better understanding and acceptance of someone who is not like us.  We see into the heart of a character who thinks and acts differently than us, but learn to accept them simply by reading their story. 
(Check out any of Karen Kingsbury’s or Jenny B. Jones’s stories for a chance to identify with a flawed character.) 

3.  Brings us closer to God.  Whether we read Christian fiction or mainstream fiction, character’s stories can make us want to examine our relationship with God. The simplest story can bring a new awareness that will eventually lead to a huge life change.

  • If we struggle with understanding the depths of God’s love for us, read Francis Rivers Redeeming Love. It paints a beautiful yet haunting picture of a love so fierce it’s almost incomprehensible.
  • The Mitford Series by Jan Karon applauds the extraordinary beauty of ordinary lives – and in the midst of it all introduces us to a God who meets us daily. 

4. Widens our social circle. Book clubs are EVERYWHERE!  A chance to meet with friends and discuss a book might not sound like an exciting night on the town, but it does offer a chance to strengthen friendships.  In our fast-paced, technologically-distancing world, there a strong need for personal connections.  I met some of my best friends simply because I shared a book with them.  From that point on, we always had something to talk about. The love of a book lead to a love of a new friend.
5. Allows us to escape life (at least for a little while.) Be serious — life is stressful! On those days when I just need a break from my problems or feel overwhelmed with my gigantic to-do list, I read.  I get lost in someone else’ problems. I cheer them on as I turn each page. Even though everything might not turn out rosy, the character survives and reminds me that God will help me survive too.
6. Enables us to endure ESPN. First, I need to give a disclaimer.  I love sports. I watch sports. In fact, during the college football season, I watch a lot of sports. But a girl has her limit, and every so often (especially during baseball season), I just can’t watch another sporting event. If you live with a sports-loving male, you wonder if the television really has other channels since that the only one that is watched.  Instead of complaining and getting frustrated over the amount of sports we endure enjoy in our home, I read. I find a good book, sit down next to the men in our house, and read.  We are together but we both get to do something we love.  Now that’s a win-win situation.

Wednesday Reads: coming-of-age edition

adjective: when a person is initiated into adulthood through knowledge, experience, or both, often by a process of disillusionment

For the past six years, I’ve read the same book every spring. Many times I read the same chapter multiple times in a day.  At one point, I estimated that I had read the entire book at least 30 times. Truth is this year’s spring has been lacking simply because I’m not reading it. Before you begin thinking no book is that good, let me explain.

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton is a classic and was required reading for my 8th grade classes. In six years of teaching, I never had one kid say they didn’t like the book (By estimates that would be around 680 students.). I guess the spring habit of reading The Outsiders feels a little cheated this year because for the last two weeks, I’ve been mulling over why the book means so much to me. 

I read the book in eighth grade, which was probably one of the most traumatic years of my life.  Most girls would agree that any year in middle school was one they WOULD NOT relive. The summer before eighth grade, my family moved from Georgia to Alabama. I left childhood friends, a captain position on the cheerleading squad, my first love, and the comfort of acceptance. My next year was filled with trying to find my place in a school of very wealthy and privileged kids, missing my life in Alabama, enduring severe injuries from a car wreck, wading through constant humiliation from a friend, and deciding whether or not God was going to be a part of my life. Needless to say, it was a rough year for me – a sort of coming-of-age year.

Ponyboy, the main character in The Outisders is 14 and struggling to make sense of the world around him.  His world contains two very distinct social classes: the haves and the have nots or as he labels it, the Socs and the greasers. In the novel, Ponyboy personally experiences a wrong in his world, stumbles through processing it (with the help of Neverland-type friends) and then decides to right the wrong.  His social and familial status doesn’t change but his view of it does. It deals with the frustrating ties of family intrinsically connected by both love and anger as well as acceptance and understanding. 

The book is a thought-provoking knot of paradoxes. Teenage stereotypes are both confirmed and negated.  The juvenile deliquent is a hero and the good kid is a societal Dr. Jekyl Mr. Hyde. Love is shown through both sacrifice and selfishness. Most of all, it authenticates the pain and the beauty of growing up. 

One reason The Outsiders perfectly portrays teenage angst and crisis is that Hinton wrote it when she was sixteen.  She was angered after seeing a friend brutally beaten by a rival social gang and decided to write away her anger, to give a voice to an unspoken injustice. She later signed the contract for publication on graduation day. But even more interesting is the fact that Hinton (a girl of 16) wrote a book where every character, save one, is a male. In fact, it was written from a male perspective so well that the publisher’s would not let her use her full name Susan Eloise Hinton; thus, the book was published under S.E. Hinton. 

Middle school, just like The Outsiders,  is full of tragic characters. Characters searching for the same things: acceptance, love, and respect. Teenagers trying to figure out who they are in an unjust world. Ponyboy, Johnny, Darry, Dally, Sodapop, and Cherry are just like the Chris, Mike, Payton, Mark, and Sarah of my teenage days. Our teenage lives were cast with friends filled with flaws and dreams; some of them even ended tragically. However, the powerful message in The Outsiders celebrates the power and beauty of friendship and growing up. Both are forever entwined and become part of who we are as adults.  

The same can be said of a great book: its story weaves with ours and changes us. So it is with The Outsiders.