Today one can take advantage of a free download of Alan Jacobs‘ “How to Read a Book,” a chapter in Liberal Arts For the Christian Life (Edited by Jeffry C. Davis & Philip G. Ryken. Crossway. 2012). Below’s the conclusion from which I raise the question, “How often do you read on a whim?”
As I draw this essay to a close, let me turn to a matter that, in my mind, is very important indeed — but not nearly as solemn as what we’ve been talking about over the past few pages. Recalling Auden’s warning that masterpieces of literature should not be our steady diet, we should affirm the great value of reading just for the fun of it. The poet Randall Jarrell tells the story of meeting a literary critic who said that every year he reread his favorite book, Rudyard Kipling’s novel Kim, just because he wanted to. Though a critic, he had never written anything about Kim, nor did he ever plan to. That one book he read, Jarrell says, “at whim,” and Jarrell ends his essay by exhorting us all to “read at whim!” 12
In my experience, Christians are strangely reluctant to take this advice. We tend to be earnest people, always striving for self-improvement, and can be suspicious of mere recreation. But God doesn’t just create, he takes delight in his creation, and expects us to delight in it too; and since he has given us the desire to make things ourselves—has allowed us to be “sub-creators,” as J. R. R. Tolkien says13 — we may rightly take delight in the things that we (and others) make.
Reading for the sheer delight of it — reading at whim — is therefore one of the most important kinds of reading there is. By all means strive to be a better reader, to grow in attentiveness, responsiveness, and charity; but whatever you do, don’t forget to allow yourself to have fun (131).
12Randall Jarrell, “Poets, Critics, and Readers,” in No Other Book: Selected Essays, ed. Brad Leithauser (New York: Harper, 1999), 229; emphasis original.
13Tolkien develops this idea of writing as “sub-creation” chiefly in his long essay “On Fairy Stories,” first published in Essays Presented to Charles Williams, ed. C. S. Lewis (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1966), 38–89.
Comment 1: I confess not reading on whim often enough. Of course sometimes reading on a whim leads to posts such as this and it’s hard to categorize one’s reading. I’m someone who finds it hard not to share good stuff. One might say that deep down I’m compelled/delighted by that which is good, true, noble, pointing beyond ourselves to the Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer. How about you?
Comment 2: Tolkien’s perspective on subcreation, a topic worthy of receiving more attention in a future post(s) . . . If you’ve studied/considered the concept, feel free to comment :)