3 min read

Lessons from fiction

I've always enjoyed reading, but over the last several years, I've noticed a trend in what books I reach for. I tend to leave the library with non-fiction books—cookbooks, knitting, homemaking, etc. Maybe my propensity for all things practical is intruding on my reading life, as well. With these practical book choices, my reading behaviors have changed. I rarely read books that I just can't set down. I read casually, a few pages here and there, or I browse the table of contents. I rarely read a book cover to cover. Sometimes, I never even crack open a book before it's due back to the library. On the rare occasion when I do read fiction, my habits are quite different. In the last year, I read a few of Jane Austen's novels (Mansfield Park and Sense and Sensibility), and I felt more determination to finish them and more attachment to the process of reading, in general.

This week, I just finished reading At Home in Mitford by Jan Karon. It was my travel book when we visited Indiana (you can see it in the photo above next to my ginger ale—I always have to order ginger ale or orange juice when I'm flying). It's a nostalgic story that records the lives of the people, specifically the episcopalian priest, of Mitford, an idyllic town in Appalachia. I laughed out loud as I read about his giant bear-like dog, casseroles and pies the neighbors made, and the local newspaperman's misspelled headlines. It's a beautifully woven story and an enjoyable read. I plan to read the next book in the series—in fact, the series seems like the perfect set of books to curl up with in the upcoming colder months. But for now, I wanted to share a few of my favorite quotes:

Already, the Silver Queen corn had started coming up the mountain every Tuesday and Friday, to be unloaded into the wooden bins. And, as always, the villagers could be counted on to clean out the entire truckload in a single day, so that every body knew what everybody else was having for dinner.

I love the idea of a whole community's excitement to eat the best seasonal produce, and the friendly nosiness of knowing what all the neighbors are having for supper. Food does strike up an unusual curiosity in me. But this next quote resonated with me on a deeper level:

Resting. Sometimes we get so worn out with being useful that we get useless. I'll ask you what another preacher once asked: "Are you too exhausted to run and too scared to rest?"

In many areas of my life, my reading life included, my need to be productive edges out more enjoyable and meaningful practices. I think the real motivation is that I'm afraid of not getting something done, which is really the same as saying, I'm afraid to rest; I'm afraid to be useless. And yet, when I choose to read fiction (and really, at the same time choose rest) I find myself more motivated and contented, because it's not work. I want to choose to read more fiction as I choose to rest more.

And lastly, because what knitter doesn't love a good knitting quote?

Knitting, he thought, was a comfort to the soul. It was regular, it was repetitious. And, in the end, it amounted to something.

I couldn't say it better, myself. The process of yarn becoming something wearable is magical, and it's why I knit. Speaking of which, I really need to finish this and get back to knitting gifts on my Christmas to-knit list. I can't believe Thanksgiving is next week—we get one day closer to Christmas every day! Thankfully, knitting, even on a deadline, is one activity that fits squarely into both the productive and restful categories.

Does anyone else struggle with this need for productivity and difficulty with resting? Are any of you previously-content-fiction-readers that now struggle a bit with reading for joy?


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