Tag Archives: reading

Inside Story

young-woman-readingPerhaps it is the border between summer and fall, those dangling days at August’s end and September’s beginning, that brings to mind the way we crossover, emigrate into a story as we turn the pages or swipe a screen.

A story invites us to cross a border and enter a magical mystical land, a promising, tantalizing world worthy of exploration and delight. It is a private estate, a personal place, intimate, shared at most with one other voice – the author, maybe also a reader reading aloud. A good story creates what John Gardner called “a vivid and continuous dream.” Novelists are urged by their coaches, instructors, and mentors to avoid at all costs waking the reader, pulling her to the surface of the dream. We want to draw her deeper and deeper into the dream of story, into its heart, to feel its heartbeat.

Those who write stories (authors), those who make those stories available (publishers), and those who promote those stories (critics, media), control our culture. So in the twentieth century, in the postwar euphoria of peace and the explosion of pharmaceuticals, with the resulting sexual revolution and its triumph of narcissism over sacrificial love, stories embraced the worldview of self, filling the vacuum left with the fading of faith and the dilution of belief.

Such despair lived in earlier fiction to be sure, but postwar peace and rising living standards pushed the need for God to the boundaries of our culture, banning religion in art and academia. Somewhere in the sixties and seventies Christians lost the culture, primarily, it appears, because they lost their creative voice in the public square. Christians no longer offered “a vivid and continuous dream,” a hopeful story for the present day. The dream had been replaced by a nightmare or, at the least, sleeplessness haunted by ghouls.

Today memories of that good dream are (almost) only memories. Even so, it is never too late to redeem the time, to recognize story’s power. For in a story, particularly one set in the present, we can create a dream not only vivid and continuous, but one we can breathe life into. And only when Christian story writers – novelists for the most part – return, crossing the border into our culture and bringing with them the culture’s rightful inheritance, its faith-full characters and plots of hope, only then, will our public square sing once again.

And so as I watch Christian faith and practice pushed to the borders of society by an overweening Supreme Court or other misguided fiat, I see a clear and present danger to churches and their related institutions (hospitals and schools) as faith is expelled from the public square. It is a world that countenances the selling of baby parts, that traffics in pornography, that is drugged by violence and sexual deviancy. It is a world that silences speech and poisons academia. It is a world that pushes propaganda.

Let us embrace stories of hope, stories that remind us of the definitions of love, marriage, and family, of our humanity, of who we are as creatures of the Creator. Let’s encourage authors to create heroes who challenge us to be brave and selfless, characters we can emulate, and character we can demand from our leaders. Let us call lies lies and truth true when we see and hear them. In such stories we can live for a time, waking from the dream as better men and women, people with a clearer vision.

As Christian writers, let us infuse the goodness and love of Christ into our culture. Let us rebirth our world, through story’s power. Today, we are nearly aliens in our own land, nearing the borders.  It’s not too late for publishers and promoters to lead us back into our nation’s heart. Authors cannot do this alone. All we can do is create the dream, the vivid and continuous dream of heaven, and invite readers in, one at a time, into the magical mystical land of story to turn the page or swipe the screen, to dwell happily for a time.

Rare Books

I visited an intriguing bookshop in Walnut Creek this last week.  It is owned and operated by a friend who loves old books – those printed before World War II. After creating a significant inventory in her home and setting up an online business, she took a leap of faith and established a “bricks-and-mortar” store in a charming old-town area of Walnut Creek. 

Walnut Creek is a suburb of San Francisco, and while once a quiet crossroads with horses and cattle grazing the surrounding hills, today it is a bustling town. But Main Street has retained its small town feel, not too different from my childhood memories with quaint shops, cafes, and shade trees. Parallel with Main runs Locust Street and the two streets form a quaint village center, perfect for strolling after a movie (around the corner) or a bite to eat or a coffee. 

Bookstores have had challenges here just as they have everywhere. A Barnes & Noble is farther away in a larger shopping area. There used to be a used bookstore in the Main Street neighborhood, but it closed its doors a number of years ago. So it is pleasing to see another store appear in the mix of shops that is book-related. 

Swan’s Fine Books is just that – run by Laurelle Swan and full of rare books. Set back from shady Locust Avenue and across the street from the Lark Creek Inn café, her store is immaculate. There was little musty smell that accompanies old books; the ambience was more of a genteel library with good lighting, attractive shelving, cozy corners to sit and browse. Only a few of the titles are behind glass – the rarest of the rare – so the visitor may enjoy holding and peeking into titles of all kinds. A Winnie-the-Pooh first edition caught my eye, but there were many other temptations. A few folks came in to look around, and I liked the fact that Laurelle allowed them to meander about on their own. “Book lovers like to to that,” she said, smiling, and I nodded. How true, I thought. 

Laurelle tells us on her website: 

Our desire is to allow you to both find that treasured book you’ve longed for, as well as to experience the wonder and delight of finding a new author or book you never knew was out there: to fall in love all over again and experience the reader’s wonder and delight.

Yes, wonder and delight is what I felt as I traveled through time in this shop. She showed me her different sections, by country and era and subject. Each book – it’s binding, its contents, it’s generation – was like a visitor from the past pulling me in. Some volumes had etchings that made them valuable; others the edition made them rare; others were simply unique, never to be duplicated, found treasures. The children’s books, especially, opened a window on another time, a simpler time, a time not far from my own childhood.

I thought about reading and my courtship with words as I travel into them, hearing them echo other words and meanings, my finger on the corner of the page, ready to turn, not wanting to lose the flow. I thought about those writers who were gone from us but their words occupied these shelves and here I was looking at them, reading them, in downtown Walnut Creek in 2013. I thought about the miracle of our brains, how our minds work to link us with one another through language, spoken and written, link our time with other times, the present with the past and future.

This morning in Sunday School as we sat in our circle and prayed the Our Father together, I was struck by the enormity of prayer and praying and offering our words of praise and petition to God, for in offering our words we offered ourselves. We folded our hands. We knelt. Our several voices became one, as we gave voice to this best-of-all prayers. Our words rose to heaven. I was stunned by language and its power to silence us to listen to its voice. 

The journey of words is captivating. They form in my mind, drift to my tongue to become speech, travel into the air to become conversation with God or with one another. Or they slip into my fingers and onto this keyboard, suddenly appearing on this white screen. Or they live in a book waiting in time and space. A miracle. 

So it was fun to travel through time and space in Laurelle’s unique shop, a truly rare bookstore, one-of-a-kind. Swan’s hosts free events from time to time (last Friday there was live jazz and wine) so her shop is swiftly becoming part of the neighborhood. She also features a shelf of local authors (yes, my books are there…) even if they aren’t rare (authors or books). With validated parking, it’s a pleasant visit to a unique setting, with some nice eateries close by. She’s always adding to her collection and she welcomes browsers. 

To see photos of the store and some of her treasures online, visit www.swansfinebooks.com. Or stop by and say hi for me: Swan’s Fine Books, 1381 Locust Street, Walnut Creek.