The Joy of Sharing Books

My husband and I launched our podcast, The Catholic Reading Challenge, at the beginning of the year, and it has been such a joyful experience. Not only has it brought the two of us together, giving us more intentional time to spend discussing stories and ideas together, but it has connected us with other people who take joy in sharing books as well…but maybe didn’t have an avenue opened before to do so.

I’ve heard from many listeners so far that they are enjoying it as much as we are, and I think what they enjoy most is the communal part of our podcast. I started The Catholic Reading Challenge on my blog two years ago, and it was a fairly standard list of 12 categories of books to read through in the calendar year. I think there were good categories, but the down side was the independent nature of it–reading in complete isolation.

I would blog throughout the year about what I was reading for each category, and ask people to share in the comments what they read. But we weren’t reading on the same schedule, so rarely were people reading the same category at the same time. It was the longing for more sharing that birthed the idea of turning the reading challenge into a podcast, one that was more of a book club. We are only in our second month (and second category) of the podcast, but already I’m having more interactions with people excited to share what they are reading. And that is truly delightful.

I have realized an important universal truth through this experience. Not only do all people love good stories–for as J. K. Rowling has said, “If you don’t like to read, you haven’t found the right book”–but they also want someone with whom to share them.

We make time for so many things in our daily life that don’t really fill us with joy. I think there is room for us to intentionally create more space in our daily rhythms for life-giving books and the communities in which to share what we encounter in them. Where can you make room for this in your life? I would add to Rowling’s sentiment: If you don’t like to read, perhaps you have never encountered the joy of a fellow reader.

Copyright 2019 Jessica Ptomey

Wonder & Whimsy: reading and redemption

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Wonder-Whimsy-1.jpg

A weekly curation of quotations I come across in my reading life (or on random condiment jars) — from the inspirational to the miscellaneous. Perhaps one inspires you or catches your fancy too…

The mark of book lovers…

“Rereading books, we [he and C. S. Lewis] said with immense agreement, was the mark of the real lover of books.” (Sheldon Vanauken, A Severe Mercy)

A woman who reads…

“A woman who reads is a rebel, defying the pace of the instant at which the modern world gallops from dawn until dusk. Her mind is her own, formed not by a scroll down the social media feed or the frantic scurry of too much to do but by her daily decision to walk in company with the wise, those authors who help her to step back, to listen, to pray, and to ponder.” (Sarah Clarkson, Book Girl)

Redeemed desires

“Living the Christian life is not a matter of repressing our desires, but of redeeming them.” (Christopher West)

The Joy of Needing Others

I need help.

Those are three words that we usually only hear spoken in moments of high frustration, when someone has reached the max, the breaking point, or is totally overwhelmed. In fact, when I write those three words I immediately think of them punctuated by an exclamation mark. I don’t imagine them as I have written them above, with a nice calm period at the end.

If the words are spoken in a conversation, aren’t they often admitted with a sigh? With a heavy resignation that feels like surrender to defeat? Do you think of someone saying those three words – “I need help” – with a joyful tone and a smile upon her face? Probably not.

Why is it that needing help, not being fully autonomous, fills us with frustration rather than joy? Why is needed assistance an indication of something lacking in us? Why do so many women want to juggle, multi-task, and power through all by themselves? The truth is that we don’t really know ourselves or we aren’t really honest with ourselves.

Think about the last time that someone helped you out in a way that was life-changing. How would it have felt to ask for that help? How did it feel after it was given? In answer to the first, probably dread; in answer to the last, probably relief. We fight so hard to be self-sustaining; but, in the end, we welcome the arm that lifts the heavy burden off our backs.

I wonder if we realize that we have been so formed by a culture of individualism and self-reliance that we find ourselves in bondage to it. We see ourselves as our own individual boats, not part of a fleet. All of our endeavors, and the various tasks that go along with completing them, must be accomplished solo. With things big or small there is the drive for the self-satisfying completion of a goal. I folded four loads of laundry today…I wrote a blog post…I got to all of the most important disciplines…I ran all of my errands and handled everyone’s schedule changes with perfect execution.

We want to check-off all our boxes, and we act as if the checkmark only counts if we did the thing entirely ourselves. Even the idea of task lists is completely individualistic. This is what I am in charge of here; that is on this person’s list over there. I think we realize this mindset doesn’t work on a small scale. Perhaps with various jobs or projects we value the idea of working together to get the job done. But in our personal and overall perspective, we take on tasks and the job of living this life as “mine.”

Why this individualistic perspective that prizes personal achievement over collective effort? I think that, ultimately, we have created the wrong narrative in our heads. We view ourselves as the hero of the story, the leading lady, the main character; and all of the people in our lives are supporting roles to our overall narrative. Within this perspective, they quickly become accessories to us…objects in our story, rather than persons with their own.

It’s not that we don’t all have our own stories; it’s just that we have taken our own stories to be central. We have failed to realize that the grand narrative is God’s, and we are all supporting characters in His story.

We have started our hectic adults lives from the premise that we are people who must become something and make something of ourselves, that we have our stories to write and we better get started. We constantly hear this narrative spoken to us in the self-help genre: are you living the life that you want to live?

We have missed the point that we are already part of the best story. We have been invited into it, and no one is excluded from it. It’s a collective narrative that celebrates the communal nature of the gospel. Will we accept the invitation? Will we open ourselves to the joy of needing others and the blessing of being needed by them? There is immense freedom in recognizing that we are living – alongside of others – in God’s story.

Copyright 2019 Jessica Ptomey