Tag Archives: non-fiction


Apparently it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert. Really. Go look at the article. I’ve heard 10 years to become an expert, no hours per week attached, but my understanding was ten years of full-time hours. That is more than 10,000 hours, so something is funny somewhere. Whatever, it takes a long time. It also means that many of us aren’t really experts at anything because we don’t do hours and hours of intentional practice at much of anything. Things I’m probably an expert at:

1. Sleeping.

2. Watching TV, even though I grew up without one.

3. Reading fiction, especially mysteries.

4. Teaching.

5. Reading other texts, but I’m not sure that I’ve read enough non-fiction. Though I may have.

6. Writing/editing academic work. Maybe I’ve got close to 10,000 hours on that. Not sure, but I’ve been doing it for more than 10 years so it is likely up there.

How about you? Where is your expertise in the 10,000 hour definition?


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Synchronized Reading

It is always interesting when I’m reading fiction and non-fiction that turn out to be about similar things. This doesn’t always happen. Of course, whenever I’m reading two books at once the two speak to each other. Even books I’m not reading right now also speak into what I’m currently reading. That is part of the fun of reading lots. Your brain works intertextually more and more. But I’ve just finished two fiction books that almost perfectly illustrate the first chapter of my current theological reading. That is pretty exciting.

My current theological read is The Fall of Interpretation: Philosophical Foundations for a Creational Hermeneutic by James K.A. Smith. Smith’s book is about hermeneutics and reading texts. He discusses whether one can ever do this without interpretation. He claims that the need for hermeneutics is part of our status as creatures, created beings, not God, and thus it is not a result of the Fall (Garden of Eden, Eve, Adam, fruit, all that = Fall). I’ve just finished the first chapter in which he discusses and disputes a view of hermeneutics that I was raised with (and, it appears, so was he, #plymouthbrethren ftw). I enjoyed it very much. I’m interested to see how he builds the “Creational Hermeneutic” promised in the title of the book.

I just finished reading The Chosen and The Promise by Chaim Potok. These books are about growing up Jewish in New York in the 40s. The first book is set during World War II, and in it the protagonist learns about the holocaust. The second book is set in the years after the war with survivors of concentration camps living in New York. Both books discuss the reading and interpretation of sacred texts extensively. The key conflict in the second book is about the reading and study of the Talmud. It is very interesting. I’m glad I re-read these two just in time to start reading Smith’s book. It makes all of them more interesting.

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Reading for people who get bored easily

I don’t think I get bored too easily. And I can sucked in by a book and fail to notice that great amounts of time have gone by while I’m reading. But sometimes I find my mind wandering when I’m reading. I read a sentence and a word triggers a memory and pouf! I’m off on a ramble down a rabbit trail in my head instead of reading the book in my hand. Now, of course, this isn’t always a bad thing. A little trip down memory lane, or a side trip along related-thought trail, can be therapeutic. Or insightful. Or all of the above. But sometimes it is just distracting from the matter at hand.

I find I drift off a little more often if a book I’m reading is difficult or if I’m a bit bored by the material. If the book is dense with ideas, and I need a mental break, my mind drifts off. Sometimes it is difficult to come back from these mental breaks, however needed they might be, so I’ve been trying out some techniques so that I’m more focused while reading. Taking notes helps, particularly when reading for research purposes. I read with a small notebook and pencil to hand. I do make notes in books (only in pencil) but the notebook gives me space for related jottings, summaries, or ways things relate to one another. When reading particularly difficult material, stopping and summarizing every chapter (or smaller unit if that is helpful) is a very useful exercise. It is time-consuming, but can be quite valuable when writing up research.

Then there’s the multi-tasking reader method. I picked this idea up from a novel I once read. I think it was a book by Margaret Drabble, and the two books I’ve read of hers are The Radiant Way and A Natural Curiosity. There’s a character that occurs in both these books who is an academic who characteristically reads two books at once as she is easily bored. Huh, I thought. Two books at once. There’s an idea. And I shelved it in the space in my brain reserved for quirky things characters do in books that I find interesting. A few years ago I was trying to wade through a particularly dreadful book that I thought I SHOULD read because people were talking about it. I remembered the two-book academic. I decided to try a version of the two-book thing. I’d read one chapter of the dreadful book, then one chapter of something else, and alternate. Maybe, I thought, I can then make it through the dreadful book without self-injury. It worked. And I got through the dreadful book quite quickly. I filed this under Useful Information in my brain. A couple of weeks ago I hauled out the two-book technique. I wasn’t reading a dreadful book this time, but one with a lot of information. Once more, the alternating thing worked quite well. I’ve decided that this is a way I can read more non-work non-fiction – I’ll alternate non-fiction chapters with my current fiction read. We’ll see how this goes. Updates to come.

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For All Saints Day

Happy All Saints Day. I was raised in a tradition that didn’t value the festivals of the church year. While studying at an Anglican Seminary, I learned to appreciate the cycles of the church year. Part of my learning came from reading a memoir structured around the church year, Girl Meets God, by Lauren F. Winner.

I first encountered an part of Winner’s memoir as an article. I didn’t remember who wrote the article, but I remembered what it was about. It was about giving up books for Lent. The author described how she was challenged by her priest to give up reading for Lent. I thought Hah, I could never do that. She thought a similar thing, and I was encouraged by her attempt. I didn’t give up all reading for Lent as Winner did. I only gave up reading fiction for Lent. To make up for the lack of fiction, I dove into my non-fiction books with a vengeance. I got A LOT of non-fiction reading done. I read biographies that had been sitting on my shelf for ages, essays, collections of letters, books for a course I was taking, some spirituality books, and a book on reading. I read 15 books during the 40 days of Lent. But I missed fiction. I longed for Easter to come. I had the fast-breaking book (Little Women) all lined up. I think that is part of the point of fasting during Lent – we long for Easter, we desire the hope of the resurrection. But there is another point to fasting that I totally missed that year. Part of the point of giving something up is to remind us to pray. Missed that one. Back to Winner and Girl Meets God – even before I read the book, Winner influenced me through her article. It changed the way I did Lent in 2001.

I read Girl Meets God in 2005. It begins with Sukkot (The Feast of Tabernacles) and continues from Advent to Advent, following the Christian year. When I got to Lent I had a sudden shock of recognition! I’d encountered Winner before, and she’d already changed the way I thought about Lent. I gained a new appreciation for my challenge to stop reading that Lent. I also gained a new appreciation for other parts of the church calendar from reading and re-reading Winner. We need to be reminded regularly of the different ways God works. All Saints celebrates the lives of all Christians through the centuries. There’s a great hymn to go with the day – there are about 50 verses it seems, but here is one version with some of the verses I particularly like.


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Non-Fiction Re-reads

I don’t re-read a lot of non-fiction, but I have read An Experiment in Criticism by C.S. Lewis 6 times. I first read this dense little book in February, 2000. The last time I read it was in March of 2010. I’m about due for another reading I think.

It seems appropriate that I re-read this particular essay frequently, as it is a book that talks about re-reading as a sign of a work’s literary value. If a book can sustain a re-reading, it is probably good literature. (I’m summarizing. Obviously.) Lewis points out that people re-read books for different reasons, but suggests that a book evokes a world for the reader. If the reader wants to return to that world, they re-read the book. This may be true for narrative works as they clearly build imaginary worlds for readers. But what about non-narrative works? Why would we re-read them?

I re-read non-fiction books that have no narrative thread because they make me think. The work illuminates something about the world I live in that attracts me back to it. In that sense I make the book a part of my own narrative, a part of my own thinking. As I read and re-read it, it becomes more imbedded in my story, in my thought.

I also re-read because of memories associated with reading a particular book. I remember one reading of An Experiment in Criticism particularly. I didn’t have my own copy of the book yet, so I had a hardback library copy. One cold winter afternoon, I sat in a wood-panelled reading room next to the (fake) fire in a wing chair and savoured a part of Lewis’s essay. A friend of mine was also reading in the same room in a matching wing chair next to the (still fake) fire. She’d not heard of this particular book before, and so I introduced her to it. She later read it. When I look at my own copy of the book, a paperback re-print, I still think of holding the worn library hardcover and sitting in that chair that afternoon. The book evokes a particular memory of a happy occasion when I enjoyed it. I look forward to re-reading the book and building another memory of enjoying it.

Why do you re-read? Or do you just read something once and then its finished?

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