Friday, March 04, 2005

Dangerous Reading

Nineteenth-century Presbyterian theologian R. L. Dabney wrote an excellent essay, "On Dangerous Reading", on the subject of indiscriminate or incautious literary exercise. That is probably one of the more prevalent problems in modern Christian culture, and I'd include unquestioning scans of the funnies or over-tolerant settings on the car radio in the mix.

That being said, there is a great deal of literature which is not explicitly "Christian" in content but can be incorporated into a Christian world view. Francis Schaeffer and more recently Doug Wilson understood the concept well and, as Schaeffer said, promoted artistic work which had not only a good message, but good art (much on Christian radio fails the latter test, as Schaeffer's son observed in Addicted to Mediocrity).

I started keeping a record of my reading several years ago when I wanted to ensure a proper, profitable, and God-honoring balance of my time in the library. Looking over last year's tally -- sixty-two books completed in the course of 2004 -- a few things show up:

The two "general nonfiction" titles were actually the two which have shaped my thought the most this year. Milton and Rose Friedman's market manifesto, Free to Choose, is somewhat dated, coming out just as the Reagan Revolution was dawning and reflecting the problems of "stagflation" and "malaise" which propelled him into office. As such, though, it clearly shows how much Reagan's policies improved economic life in America. Mitchell Stephens' study of the organizational nature of the homeschooling movement, Kingdom of Children, was recommended by a friend/attorney at HSLDA. Stephens' insights into the personality of both the right and left wings of the movement have helped me both to appreciate and to effectively interact with the full range of characters forming the homeschool community in our state. I have urged other leaders to read and see whether Stephens' observations hold true for them -- to me, they appear to be right on target.

I read twelve books of history or biography, all in the range of late-17th to mid-20th century (from The Diary of Samuel Pepys -- this is not one for the kids! -- to The Last Nine Days of the Bismarck). Two were standouts -- Joseph Ellis' Founding Brothers, and Hagedorn's The Roosevelt Family of Sagemore Hill. I am still collecting biographies of Theodore Roosevelt, and the latter was a good read on the trip to the Republican National Convention.

Eight were classed as "literature", or ten if you count re-reading Lewis' That Hideous Strength and move the Diary of Samuel Pepys out of the history column. I'm helping Melanie keep ahead of John's "great books" curriculum, which is no slight task, even though it was a good excuse to re-read Sayers' The Nine Tailors.

The balance of the list reflected, as much as anything, the presence of a two-year-old who didn't want to go to sleep at nights. I often found myself walking the floor carrying son David, and reading things which were (a) light enough to carry without straining my hand -- no Baxter's Christian Directory here -- and (b) light enough to read without straining my brain. These tended to be mysteries (Erle Stanley Garner, Rex Stout, and Josephine Tey), a fair sample of C.S. Forester (I found his non-Hornblower books more profitable, actually), and a smattering of P.G. Wodehouse, Garrison Keillor, P.D. James, and Louis L'Amour.

I plan to expand on 2005's reading more as I go along. Here's to good art, with a good message, and reading no more dangerous than Aslan, the "not tame" lion.

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