By: Paul J. Morrison
“What are you reading?”
I have been asked this familiar question in many contexts. Each time the question merited its own response. The book obviously changes, and with it the level of pride or indifference of my answer. But even if it were always the same book, the answer seems to be even more contextual.
When I was a student the question was posed as a diagnostic for what courses I was taking, frequently sparking a conversation about the material, the professor, or perhaps more likely, commiseration and laughter in the vein of “you poor soul.”
Between semesters and following graduation the question instead came to mean, “what are you reading now that it is your choice?” A revelation of interest shaped but no longer determined by syllabi and assignments.
Sitting in a coffee shop, waiting on a colleague, the question is now a cordial greeting. Its words invoke my attention up from the pages to let me know “I am here. We can begin our meeting, now.” A smile and a turn of the cover are usually the only answer necessary, as I mark my page and tuck the book back into my bag.
The question’s purpose ranges as far as the interest of the one who asks it. There are often follow up questions about placement if they are familiar with the work or a brief synopsis of its argument or plot if they are not. The subsequent conversations can be short and they can hold a schedule for ransom. In every case, I think the question to be a significant diagnostic of a reader’s mind and heart.
What you read shapes and informs what you believe to be true, good, and beautiful. I hold quite confidently that truth, goodness, and beauty are objective truths rather than subjective ones; that each is ultimately rooted in the character and nature of God, despite straying opinions. What we read often deepens our knowledge of that reality or it distracts us from it further.
It is good to read books which challenge us and ones with which we disagree. We too often isolate ourselves to monolithic echo-chambers, repetitions of our specific worldview by those who share it, and rebuke of those who do not. But I have recently found freedom in putting down a book. Most often it is not because the book has offended me or that I refuse to hear the fullness of its argument, for I generally plan to resume my reading later. There is simply great delight in setting down a book I am not enjoying in favor of another to which I am looking forward.
At any given time, I have somewhere between four and six books queued on my desk. Gifts, purchases, and books I plan to revisit stare up at me. Time is in the present life a finite reality. Other obligations fill it and other luxuries unwind it. I can only read so much. I choose to read primarily what is good.
In Philippians 4:8, Paul writes, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
The question, “what are you reading?” is an inquiry into what we value. It is a survey of our very souls.