By: Katie Choi
Reading brings me joy. So does laughter from a funny movie or a really good plotline from a television show where I have connected to the characters. I love a good story, and I love having someone to root for. For me, it’s fun to learn about different eras or learn from a character’s struggle, even in a fictional plotline. Last fall, I led a small group on a book called, On Reading Well by Karen Swallow Prior. It was a small group in every sense of the term because only two people, other than myself, signed up for it. Despite that, I could not have enjoyed the book or the company more. The book was so complex, in a wonderful way. On the one hand, it sparked motivation in me to read more, and allowed me the freedom to pick books with better discernment. On the other, it taught readers how many life lessons can be learned through literature. Different virtues were chosen for each chapter and then a novel was selected as an example about how we can learn these traits. Here is a line Prior writes that helps explain this, “literature embodies virtue, first, by offering images of virtue in action and, second, by offering the reader vicarious practice in exercising virtue, which is not the same as actual practice, of course, but is nonetheless a practice by which habits of mind, ways of thinking and perceiving, accrue.” She also adds this a few pages later, “the act of judging the character of a character shapes the reader’s own character.” But, I don’t think those lessons are only reserved for books. We can find it through all sorts of mediums.
These days, free time might look different so you might be searching for some ways to fill it. I would encourage you to choose things that bring you joy and feel life-giving. I know for me, it’s easy to get drawn into the culture fads of shows like Tiger King (Yep, I watched it) or the latest best seller topping the charts. But often, these things aren’t always the best that entertainment has to offer.
Quick disclaimer, there isn’t anything wrong with these sort of things, and there is a time and a place for all that. But because my free time does have limits, I find that when I am thoughtful about my choices I can use that time in a way that really fills me up rather than drains me. I should also say, that I certainly fall into traps where I am mindlessly on my phone or binging episodes, and sometimes, my brain and body need that. So all I am saying is, pay attention to those needs and make decisions after that.
So, as I reflect on Prior’s On Reading Well, and consider all the intake that is out here, here are some examples of books, television shows, and movies from my life, recently, that have been beneficial to me.
- A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
- This is one of the best books I have read in a long time. I finished it up before social distancing started, but I think it is almost more relatable now. The book is set in Russia during the start of the revolution. The main character gets sentenced to house arrest at the hotel where he lives. He comes from great wealth so much of what he knows is instantly stripped away. The books follows his life over the course of many decades as he remains within the confines of the hotel. It’s a wonderful story that draws you in. The writing is wonderfully descriptive and the characters make me long to know them in person and be their friend. If you take anything away from this post, I hope it is you making plans to read this book.
- The Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkein
- Did I lose anyone with that title? (Or maybe I lost the rest of you by asking if I lost anyone? I have put myself in a tough spot!) Don’t put these books in a box! Give them a chance if they seem to scare you or feel like they wouldn’t be your first choice! I think they can speak to everyone whether you like adventure, fantasy fiction or not. I have never read these before, but I planned to start them in December with a friend. Life got in the way so that plan sort of got pushed aside. Then, we found ourselves in a pandemic, and I found it really hard to focus on reading. I found my mind was distracted. Last week, I resolved to get over that hump so I picked up The Fellowship of the Ring and it sucked me in. The setting in so many ways feels so different from our world that it will provide an enjoyable escape. But many of their struggles, though different, speak to our struggles today. Good versus evil. Letting the desires of our hearts rules our lives. On and on.
- You have probably heard the question asked that if you could live in a different time period, which would it be? I am not sure the specific time period, but one thing I know for sure is that I would be British. This show takes place directly following the Revolutionary War, but in Cornwall, England. Poldark is the last name of the protagonist and let me just say that if ever there was someone to root for, it’s him. He doesn’t always live up to the standards we have set for him, but by golly, he sure tries. My husband, Ben, had zero interest in watching Downton Abbey, much like I feel about sports. So when this show got recommended to me and he obliged me in saying he would give it a try…I was shocked when he liked it as much as I did! We have watched the first four seasons on Amazon Prime but have yet to see the fifth and final season. At this point, you have to pay to watch it, and you know, just some things you cannot justify so we are standing strong! Hopefully it isn’t horrible, like they introduce an alien story line or something weird causing me to lead you all astray. If so, apologies in advance.
- Anne with an E
- This might appeal to more of a niche market, but I just couldn’t leave it off the list. This Netflix’s take on the beloved Anne of Green Gables story written by L.M. Montgomery. I read the book when I was a little girl and it holds such a special place in my heart. I decided to watch this while on maternity leave when free time abounded and quality standards were low. (I don’t always take my own advice when making decisions.) Lucky for me, this one turned out to be a great choice. Anne is the main character and just watching the life lessons her and her friends learn along the way is captivating. You see friendships that struggle, but they have a resolve to make things right. You see family relationships strained and put the test, but love prevails. It is a show that makes you delight in the simplicities of life. How needed!
- 1917 was the rumored front runner for Best Picture at this year’s Oscars and then Parasite came in with the win. This is absolutely a great film. Set in WW1, it follows the orders of two British soldiers. The film is based on a story the director’s grandfather told him about his time during WWI. Knowing that makes the movie all the more incredible. It’s important to be aware of yourself and your feelings right now and this movie is pretty heavy and, at times, gruesome. But the ending sentiment of working towards a common good despite the odds and hardships feels inspiring.
- This one was my husband’s pick as it recently dropped on Netflix. He liked some of the writer’s other work and he was drawn to the immigration story as that relates to his parents coming to the US from South Korea. Admittedly, I am not always drawn to movies where I have to read subtitles. I think that more relates to my laziness than anything else. But, this story was really surprising. Part of the storyline focuses on divorce so that was really relatable to me and my story with my parents. Overall, a well done story about the nuance of our relationship. Run time is only an hour and a half so the investment is low.
So, how does reading a book or watching something on the TV help you continue community? It is a way for yourself to find rest so that you are more apt to help others. In another way, I really enjoy connecting with people over a shared love of a book or show or movie. Those people can be in your household or not. You can do something, like my friend and I are, where you journey through Lord of the Rings together. It can be such a fun, fruitful way to take part in learning other’s perspectives and ideas.
I mentioned above that I love a good story and I think a big part of that is because I believe that I am created for a bigger one. Ecclesiastes 3 explains this a little bit. Verse 11 reads, “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” These words, along with other scripture, speak to our need of story. We are seeking redemption, we long for good to triumph because in our heart, deep down, we know that good winning is essential for our own redemption. The gospel narrative is in our hearts.
Whether any of these ideas or examples inspire you to give these books or shows or movies a shot, that doesn’t matter. The closing idea I’d like to leave you with is to slow down and savor your intake. Take a moment to read a good book and appreciate the storytelling. Sit down and watch a movie and reflect on the feelings it stirred up in you. Share recommendations with your friends or loved ones and enjoy the beauty that can come from those conversations and connections.
I am praying with you and for you and wishing you peace.