Fortress of Habit

The death of reading is threatening the soul

“Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.”

When asked about his secret to success, Warren Buffett pointed to a stack of books and said, “Read 500 pages like this every day. That’s how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest. All of you can do it, but I guarantee not many of you will…”

Modern culture presents formidable obstacles to the nurture of both spirituality and creativity. As a writer of faith in the age of social media, I host a Facebook page and a website and write an occasional blog. Thirty years ago I got a lot of letters from readers, and they did not expect an answer for a week or more. Now I get emails, and if they don’t hear back in two days they write again, “Did you get my email?” The tyranny of the urgent crowds in around me.

I’m still working on that fortress of habit, trying to resurrect the rich nourishment that reading has long provided for me. If only I can resist clicking on the link 30 Amish Facts That’ll Make Your Skin Crawl…

Fortress of Habit is a wonderful turn of phrase.

Recently Listened: April 2014 Audiobooks

I love reading, but lately I’ve not been able to sit down and put eyes to words. So instead I’ve listened to a few audiobooks this month and have really enjoyed them.

Ready Player One By Ernest Cline

Ready Player One is a wonderful book. It was recommended to me by a few friends who said I would love it. They were right. I listened to Wil Wheaton read it.

It’s an 80’s Geek Love Fest. The story is filled with 80s computer games, music, video games, movies and everything else 80s you can think of. A great story of misfits hunting across a virtual universe for a secret treasure it did not disappoint.

Predictable in places and unexpected in others. I listened to every word with eager anticipation of what was going to come next. The worst part of Ready Player One is that it ends.

David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants by Malcolm Gladwell

David and Goliath was an interesting look at re-examining common situations and looking at them a different way. Read by the author, Gladwell talked often of how stories we’ve come to know by heart can actually be seen very differently.

And how the David in stories can triumph over Goliaths by changing the game and playing to their strengths. I didn’t learn and great truths or insights, but it was interesting to look at things differently.

The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun by Gretchen Rubin

Happiness. It’s something we all seek to find and maintain. Rubin took on a challenge each month to try to become happier. In the course of being happier, she also tried to make the people around her happier.

In examining her behaviors, she tries to act better. To quit nagging. To be more positive. To be a good example for her children.

She shares her Secrets of Adulthood. Many of which I found myself nodding my head to. Those were things I could do better at. Or at least things to strive for.

Reading her own book, she never preaches her way is The One True Way™. But instead shares her experiences and experiments and reports what worked for her and what she found after trying out different things each month.

Searching for Dave Chappelle by Jason Zinoman

Dave Chappelle is an interesting figure. At the height of his success, he vanishes out of the public eye for reasons unknown. The kindle short doesn’t have any definitive answers. It does paint a fuller picture of Dave Chappelle, the man and the comic.

It was a short, enjoyable story. I really enjoyed his television show and stand-up comedy. And while I didn’t learn anything new about the why he left the show. I did learn more about him as a person. And that was worth the listen.

Got a suggestion of what I should read or listen to next? Curious what else I’ve enjoyed? Check out my Books page.


I read one book. Now I’m trapped.

I finished a story. I got all three parts. Completed. Finished.

But it was merely a glimpse. An introduction. The tattered edge of a map waving invitingly in the breeze.

Beckoning me. Begging me. Calling me to it. Demanding I dig deeper.

Deeper I went. There is another book. A sequel. Well reviewed and available.

It fills the gaps in the first story. It was less a sequel as the rest of the story.

The completion of a tale only half told.

I was excited. And conflicted.

I had other worlds to visit. I tried to dive in. Dangling my toe into their literary waters.

I swam in them. Forcing myself into the crashing waves and chilly depths.

But each time I regretted leaving my first world. It has stuck with me. Demanding my attention. Begging to show me more.

Hiking its skirt up and showing some leg. Legs that went on forever. There were even more books. An entire universe to explore.

A huge world I was merely a tourist in. I had stumbled in unknowingly.

It has me and it won’t let me go. I need to know more. I must visit. I must move there.

I must return to the world I know only vaguely. Armed with more questions than answers, I tip toe closer to its Siren’s song.

I am taken. Shipwrecked. With no hope of escape. Unless I learn all I can. And to do that…

I must read.

What did you read as a kid?

Reading through Gwen Bell‘s letter this morning, she talked about reading as a child. She took the conversation to Google+ and asked three questions.

  1. Why did you read what you read as a kid?
  2. Who or what encouraged you to read?
  3. As a kid, was it the quality of the writing or the quantity of it that mattered to you?

The more I thought about it, the more I wrote so I turned it into a post here instead of a comment there.

1. Why did you read what you read as a kid?

Reading was my escape as a kid. We didn’t have cable TV, and to this day can’t get it where I grew up. Books are where I got my adventures and stories. I was always a voracious reader. I would often read a book during classes in school when I was bored or already knew the material.

I got yelled at more than once for having my nose stuck in a book instead of paying attention to the teacher.

I grew up in a small, rural town in northern Virginia. Berryville was a town of about 2,000. I grew up reading because it offered my imagination a place to go and stories to live out which were more exciting than the cows and apple orchards surrounding the farm.

When I was young I read a lot of Encyclopedia Brown. I loved the detective tales. Perhaps it’s because my dad was such a huge Sherlock Holmes fan but I loved those stories.

When I got older I found Roald Dahl. I fell in love with The BFG, James and the Giant Peach, Matilda, Danny The Champion of the World and of course Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

The Chokey in Matilda and the dream bottles in The BFG captured my imagination growing up. The BFG resonated with me because I was such a big kid. I was always the tallest kid in my school until 8th grade when I had a math teacher who towered at 6’8″ barely eclipsing my 6’4″.

I never read any of Dahl’s adult books which I didn’t even know existed until a couple of years ago. They lack the magic of his children’s work.

I’ve read his autobiography, Boy which was enlightening and gave me more insight into the man with whom I had shared many hours of my childhood.

2. Who or what encouraged you to read?

Both of my parents encouraged me to read. They were both college educated and knew the value of education in life and wanted me to have the same advantages of a good education. It also provided endless hours of entertainment and information.

Part of my love of reading came from both parents having owned and worked in the printing and copying industry.

They founded Circle Graphics then Copy General and with it came my love, borderline addiction, to reading. Much like my father, I am barely able to walk past a poster, sign, pamphlet or anything else with words without stopping to investigate.

3. As a kid, was it the quality of the writing or the quantity of it that mattered to you?

I don’t remember thinking of either of these when I was a kid. I would say quality because while I read a lot, I read specific authors or series.

Once I found Encyclopedia Brown, I read lots of those books. The same went for Roald Dahl. Once I found his books, I read nearly every children’s book he wrote. Many of them I read more than once and in every case was highly disappointed by the movies in every case.

Fun Fact: I never read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory growing up. Sure, I had seen the movies starring Gene Wilder but I hadn’t ever read Dahl’s original until I was in high school.

Reverence for the printed page

I have a great reverence for books.

I will not defile a book with marking it up. I will not highlight, underline, circle, or scribble in the margins. I treat a book as a sacred collection of thoughts painstakingly assembled by its author. In a recent conversation with a friend ((And published author)) we discussed our love for eBook.

Me: I love Audible. I love Kindle too. SO MANY BOOKS!

R: And this coming from a guy who told me he didn’t read anymore!

Me: Kindle changed all that. True Story: My dad gave me a book to read and review. I couldn’t. I bought the kindle book and am halfway through.

R: You know, I have an actual library. I mean, probably close to, if not over, 1000 books. And I prefer the Kindle too.

Along with our love of the electronic book, we also share a reverence for the printed page.

Me: My dad has a library in his house. I want to have a library one day. I still love the sight, touch and feel of the physical book. But the benefits of eBooks are too much. I also have a certain reverence for the printed page. I will not defile it with highlighter, or pen/pencil marks. eBooks mean I can highlight without lasting marks. ((Yes, I know I’m weird))

R: No, you’re not weird, you’re RIGHT. I HATE people who defile books.
I won’t even fold the page down to mark my place.

I love the ability to highlight and make notes on Kindle books. I can mark up the book without a permanent smudge on the book itself. In addition, I can also see popular highlights throughout the book if I choose. I can read a book for review, mark it all up, and in the end, the book remains exactly as I received it. A pristine book, ready for the next person to enjoy, or me to re-read.

The Kindle app for the iPad has reignited my love of reading. According to GoodReads I have completed 15 books so far this year. That is more books than I’ve read in any single year since I graduated college in 2004.

The Kindle app is so amazing because in addition to allowing me to mark up a book without the permanence, it opens whole new worlds through the printed pages. In an instant, I can buy and start reading nearly any book my heart desires. For each of those books I can tweak the font size to make it easier to read through sleepier eyes. As flexible as physical books are, the fact remains I may not have the book with me.

If I leave my book at home I will not be able to read it at work or on the train. However, with Kindle books, I can read on my iPad, iPhone, or any computer within arm’s reach. I mainly read on my iPad or iPhone. The phone is an ideal reading device for a crowded subway car or those moments when I am waiting in lines.

I constantly have my phone or another electronic device on or near me so reading electronically is never a problem. The Kindle’s syncing and ubiquity stack up well against the pros of physical books without many of the cons. ((As I consider them.)) In addition, they do not need a large amount of space in my home to keep.

One day, when I have a house to call my own and I’ve given up the nomadic lifestyle of apartment living I will have a library. I will collect the great books I have read to fill the shelves. Who knows, I may even prefer reading on paper again by then. I want to have the quiet, comfortable room surrounded with the tomes I’ve spent my life reading and learning from.

But until then, I prefer the portability of Kindle and an endless library I can pick up and move once the lease ends.

%d bloggers like this: