Andi Cumbo - Writer, Editor, Online Writing Courses, Classes & Lessons

Why I Read Hard Things

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Some days, what I most want is to sit down with the fluffiest, lightest, marshmallow-like book I can and disappear. Some days, I do just that.

But some days I need to read harder, more dark chocolate-like books. Books that tingle me with their bitter truth, that challenge me to keep reading despite pain or discomfort. Sometimes I need harder books.

I need them because they force me to see in new ways and stretch my mind to take in new language patterns. I need them because they remind me that not everyone lives life like I do and because sometimes people have a similar life but live it very differently. I need them because they stretch me.

Right now, I’m reading Penelope Fitzgerald’s The Blue Flower. It’s lovely – although it reminds me a little too much of Lolita right now – but it’s hard. The sentence structures aren’t simple, and there isn’t a movie-style plot. It’s literary fiction, and it’s very good . . . but hard.

I’m also reading Faith Works by Jim Wallis. Here, the stretching comes from the ideas – ideas about how I need to be more proactive in helping bring change, about how I need to live into the questions I have more fully, about how I need to find what my faith is calling me to do and do it. It’s not a lazy read at all.

This afternoon, I also want to start re-reading the stories in Uwem Akpan’s Say You Are One of Them. I need to be pushed; I need to be pained by the suffering of others.  And these stories do that, each told from the perspective of a child in Africa who is facing unbearable life choices, these stories do that.

Finally, in the car, I’m listening to Hot, Flat, and Crowded by Thomas Friedman.  I’ve always considering myself a person who lived “green.” But this book is forcing me to realize how very lazy I’ve been in this regard, how much more I need to be doing. How much WE, the American culture, MUST change.  Now, I follow Wallis’s advice and ponder the question – “How do I change? How do I encourage change in others?”

It’s not a time of light reading for me. And that’s okay. Soon, I will finish a book and pick up something lighter – Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, perhaps. But for now, I’m stretching.  And it’s good.

What about you? Why do you read or not read hard things? What are you reading that is challenging you?

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Author: Andi

I am a writer, editor, and writing teacher whose most recent book, The Slaves Have Names, tells the story of the people who were enslaved on the plantation where I was raised. When I'm not working, my husband and I are working to make our small farm - God's Whisper Farm - a retreat here at the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

  • http://laurelrainsnowauthor.com/ Laurel-Rain Snow

    I like how you characterized the “harder” books as dark chocolate.

    Yes, it is good to stretch occasionally. This coming week, I’ll be stretching with an Ian McEwan book.

    Here’s MY SUNDAY SALON POST
    Laurel-Rain Snow recently posted…AUTHOR’S HOME PAGEMy Profile

  • http://deuceology.wordpress.com LarryTheDeuce

    I have gotten lazy reading books that are harder. Lazy may not be the right word. I have just focused on some lighter stuff of late.
    LarryTheDeuce recently posted…Why We Need To EatMy Profile

  • http://www.caribousmom.com Wendy

    I often agree with you, Andi…and we are in synch again on this question. Like you, I sometimes really need to read the harder stuff…and I am almost always rewarded when I stretch myself. My favorite books are often the ones that make me work a little. Not to say that I don’t like fluff from time to time! When I am stressed or going through difficult times, I mostly want the fluff…an escape rather than a challenge. The key, I think, is to have balance (isn’t that true of everything in life?).
    Wendy recently posted…The Sunday Salon – October 14, 2012My Profile

  • Brock

    To be honest, I am not sure why I read. I just know that I enjoy learning new thing and opening my mind. I enjoy all kinds of reading but perfer the ones that pose questions!! That is why I enjoy your blog, almost all of them make me think which in trun make me a better person! Peace & Love #FarmersRead :)

  • http://classicvasilly.wordpress.com Vasilly

    I read the harder books to “see” the world, to know what’s going on. I read them for enjoyment and to become smarter. I read them so I don’t miss out.

    I’ve just finished reading How Children Succeed by Paul Tough. I’ll probably read The Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard or Fire in the Ashes by Jonathon Kozol next.
    Vasilly recently posted…Sunday Salon: A Day of ReadingMy Profile

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