Monday, January 26, 2015

What Should I Read?

We've all heard that "you are what you eat," and Jefferson Airplane reminds us to "remember what the dormouse said: feed your head." 

I've heard it said that, in five years' time, a person will be just the same as they are now, except for the people they meet and the books they read. If that's true, then what you feed your head should be chosen with some care, since reading has a direct effect on the way we think, much as food has both an immediate and a long-term impact on the way our bodies feel and function. We find in the book of Proverbs that "as [a man] thinketh in his heart, so is he," and Marcus Aurelius reports in his Meditations that “The mind will be like it’s habitual thoughts; for the soul becomes dyed with the color of your thoughts.” So, if one's reading choices will leave an imprint on one's very soul, then it's important to choose wisely. But how?

Matsuo Basho, a 17th century Japanese poet, gives the following advice: "Do not follow in the footsteps of the old masters. [Rather,] seek what they sought." In other words, we should choose what we read based on what it is that we seek. Want to be knowledgeable in your field? seek out the literature. Want to improve your skills? Seek out books about the things you want to master. You'll get better by the act of adding to your knowledge and contending with a different perspective.

But it goes deeper than that, I think. To know what we seek is one thing, but what is it that we ought to seek? St. Thomas Aquinas, the great Catholic theologian, taught that “Three things are necessary for the salvation of man: to know what he ought to believe; to know what he ought to desire; and to know what he ought to do.” Leave the salvation piece aside for the moment, and notice the three areas of importance: beliefs, desires, and actions. All three shape who we are, and are tremendously important in every area of life, so they can guide our search for what to read.

I'm suggesting here that we allow what we believe, what we want, and what we do determine our reading choices, but the joy of reading is that it becomes a sort of precipitation cycle, in which what you read influences what you think, and that color dyes the soul. 

It's also very important to bear in mind that the soul is nurtured by Truth, Beauty, and Goodness, and, consequently, will begin to wither without them. Be intentional about seeking out what is true, beautiful, and good, and you'll be surprised how much vitality it can add to not only your inner landscape but also to your life and the living of it. 

So, how do we choose what to read?

1. Choose with great care, for you're choosing what stains your soul

2. Choose to expand your knowledge, hone your desires, and empower your actions

3. Actively seek out the true, the good, and the beautiful

I've read some good ones lately. Find my Goodreads profile here.

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