General humor knitting

Reading Introductions–or Not

When I was younger, I never read the Introductions to books. I’d skip right to the beginning of the text itself, whether it was a story or non-fiction. Somewhere along the way, however, I decided that the Introduction was part of the book, and needed to be read before reading the book in order to understand the book as the author intended. I suspect this transition was somewhere around when I started college, and I needed all the help I could get in understanding many of the books I was reading.

It only just occurred to me, some 20 years later, that maybe I don’t need to read the introductions to books. Maybe I can just start in on the book itself. After all, if I find myself needing greater clarity, there’s always the option to go back and read the introduction (read the book out of order? That’s heresy). Often, I find, introductions are the least interesting part of the book. Often, they are an expanded in table of contents (“in chapters 1 & 2 we will discuss the evolution of the idea of left-handed knitting; chapter 3 will explore the early innovators of left-handed knitting, with particular attention to the social pressures they felt to knit right handed; chapter 4 chronicles the acceptance of left handed knitting, while chapter 5 gives examples of patterns especially developed for left handed knitters; finally, chapter 6 lays out a plan for world domination by left handed knitters”). At other times, the introductions explains why the author felt the need to write the book (“as  I was learning to knit, I sought out resources on left handed knitting–as I have been a leftie all the days of my life–and was shocked and dismayed to find that all the books seem to regard left handed knitting as an inferior cousin to right handed knitting. In this book, I set out to show that all true knitters are left handed, and all who knit with their right hands are to be executed–or at least locked away.”). Frankly, at this point, by the time I’ve picked up a book to read it, I probably don’t care why the author felt the need to write it, and it’s rare that knowing the structure of the book will improve my appreciation of it.

Therefore, I am giving myself permission to skip introductions. From now on, I can go right to the text itself. I might even skip the dedication page .


Spiritual Reading

In the last week,  my reading habits have shifted some. For months, most of my reading (I’m speaking here of books, not blogs) has been science fiction/fantasy. This is mainly escapist reading for me, with an undercurrent of social commentary/critique. (Just for reference, my favorite writer in this genre is L.E. Modesitt, Jr.). But in the past week I’ve been reading more deliberately spiritually oriented books.

The first of these, which I am  reading essays from slowly, savoring, is A Monk’s Alphabet, by Jeremy Driscoll. He is a monk, apparently working in a somewhat traditional genre of spiritual reflection, arranged alphabetically. I’ve only just dipped my toe into this, but find his reflections on life and the modern world, life and his ancient tradition, interesting and provocative. They push me to think about my life, and some of the things I miss in the everyday tumult.

The second book I’m listening to on tape: Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith, by Anne Lamott. I love the ongoing struggle she narrates between what she wants to feel and actually experiences. Even more, I enjoy her self-recognition of the moments where she crosses that line from “being spiritual” to smug self-congratulation for being spiritual, which all of us who seek to live a life of the spirit fight against. It is deeply reassuring that (to me, anyway) to have someone else name this flaw in themselves also, given that I all too often recognize it in myself.  

I would love to say that this spiritual reading is radically transforming my life. I could, in fact say (or write) this. But it wouldn’t be true. It is, perhaps, helping me to be a little more aware of the spiritual aspects of my day, the opportunities for helping others, the ways in which my life is intersecting with the Divine. But it is a slow process, which is taking place around the edges of life. Which is, after all, the main message of spiritual texts: It’s all about listening more closely to the everyday.