By CaReese Rials
In addition to working as a freelancer, I have the unique experience of working with kindergarteners. One of the most exciting parts of my job is witnessing the special moments where squiggly lines on paper become words with meaning. Once a child is able to discern the meaning of the letters on the page, a whole world opens up for that child. Books are the tour guides of this new world.
I have loved to read for as long as I can remember. There’s a certain story that circulates in my family. Apparently at 5 years old I refused to go outside and play with the other children on the block because I wanted to stay in and read. The girls in the neighborhood were no match for the genius of Dr. Seuss.
As I grew, my love for reading grew as well. When I was little my mother and I made frequent trips to the library. I’d leave with a big stack of books and an even bigger smile on my face. When I got older I began to frequent bookstores. Somewhere along the way I amassed a collection of books that has made me the object of admiration as well as the object of ridicule. That, however, is another story.
Books have touched every area of my life. They have stimulated me intellectually and touched me emotionally. Books have also had a profound impact on me as a Christian. I’ve read books of all kinds: fiction and nonfiction. While their subject matter varies, I find that good books affect us in a number of ways.
A good book can educate.
This is one of the greatest rewards of reading. I think that any book can teach you something. You can learn about science, the law, or culture. Even fiction books can be educational. Most novels are great lessons in human nature.
There are some subtle ways that a book can teach you as well. When reading you subconsciously pick up on use of language and style. You are exposed to new ways of organizing information. Reading teaches you a lot about language. Old books are especially good teachers, and reading them can be exhilarating.
For example, I interacted with A. W. Tozer’s The Pursuit of God in ways that I could never engage a newer book. There’s a certain depth of thought in older books that is rarely seen in today’s writing. It’s nice to have an easy read, but the mind needs to be engaged at a deeper level from time to time.
A good book can confront.
In a book the author presents you with a problem to be worked out, a mystery to be solved, or a situation that needs to be changed. Books confront you with harsh realities and plant them firmly in your mind. They cause you to ask questions: Why are things this way? How did this happen? What am I doing?
I remember reading Greater by Steven Furtick. In his book he talks about what he calls the “lesser loser life.” It is a life characterized by monotony, complacency, and mediocrity. In its pages I was confronted by the glaring truth that I was, indeed, living the lesser loser life rather than the greater life God has planned for each of us. I would not have been able to realize it if I didn’t have his book, which served as a mirror for me, allowing me to see myself and my life in the proper context. Life can be like jumping into a swimming pool—conditions may be shocking initially, but you soon get used to them. In the same way I had gradually grown used to the lesser loser life.
It is easy to become accustomed to something if it’s all you see. You see your life in the context of your own experience and those around you. If you’re sharing the same environment, chances are many of the people around you have some of the same tendencies. You often need to be confronted with the perspective of someone completely removed to see your own situation clearly. Books can offer that for you.
A good book can transport.
The written word gives readers the power to transcend space and time. A book can transport you across the world to Fiji or back in time to the camps at Auschwitz. A book can transport you to the streets of Capernaum to walk with Jesus. This mental teleportation is essential. How else will a girl in the suburbs of Chicago experience the horrors that Jesuit priest Walter J. Ciszek faced in Soviet prisons and in the slave labor camps of Siberia?
An author can paint a mental image and create a sensory experience that can put readers in touch with realities that are far removed from their own. This is why we come to books. We are well acquainted with self. We come to books because we want to see and experience other.
A good book can challenge.
Books cause you to think about what should be. A good book will challenge you to think about possibilities. In the pages of Francis Chan’s Crazy Love, I was challenged to go beyond a lukewarm life and truly experience God.
A good book engages the mind and invites you to evaluate what was said. A good book encourages you to find a solution. It can make you ask meaningful questions: What should I be doing? What is the standard? A well-written book draws you along a mental path and creates a desire to see that ideal situation become reality.
A good book can change you.
Books can spur you to action. They lead you to act on the challenges the author has issued. Some books give action steps. Others encourage you to do some soul-searching and form your own. A book can help you take action to reach your ideal or correct a problem.
Another way that a book can change you is to change your perception. In his book Radical, David Platt defines what it really means to follow Jesus. It has reshaped my perception of Christian life, and it has changed my life as a result.
A good book can create community.
Whenever you read a book, you join a club. As a member of the club you have an instant connection with others who have read that book. You get the references that people make to the book. You’re in the club.
I know many people who read Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling every day. I feel a bond with these people because we like the same type of book. Having that type of community enriches the reading experience because I can interact with others about what the author has said. Proverbs 27:17 tells us that “as iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” This is one of the reasons that small groups and book clubs have such a profound effect on lives.
Having read a variety of books for school and for pleasure, I can better interact with people face to face. Because I have been exposed to a variety of thoughts and perspectives, I have become better able to hear and evaluate the thoughts of others in a more meaningful way. Reading widely creates a pathway that enables me to connect with others in a way that allows ideas to be shared.
A good book can invite you to dream.
Three years ago I worked up the courage to write a book of my own. The process of writing a book has been almost as instructive as reading one. As I wrote, I thought about the experiences I have had in the hand of other writers and tried to create similar experiences for my readers. It is a challenge, but it is an enjoyable one. I would be very fulfilled if my words could touch others the way that other writers have touched me.
Books are more than information. Books are transformation. More than anything, books, be they fiction or nonfiction, are an invitation to dream—to dream of beauty, adventure, a better world, or a better you. When you open a book you accept the author’s invitation and walk together on a journey to do many things. And if you have chosen well, you will never be the same.
CaReese Rials is a freelance writer in Country Club Hills, Illinois (@CareeseSmiles).