“Oh, I’ve totally been meaning to read that—everyone keeps telling me I need to.” How many times have you heard something like that or said it yourself?
About a week back, I was talking with a young man and he mentioned how there were all these classic books he was just starting to read. Mere Christianity, Orthodoxy… these kinds of books. Then he told me something that struck me funny. “I feel bad having never read these, when they’re so easily accessed. Where I’m from, we don’t have the option of reading these kinds of books.”
I didn’t have the heart to tell him that many of us haven’t read them either.
Now, I have read Mere Christianity and Orthodoxy (I also read and mostly understand Matt Anderson’s blog, Mere Orthodoxy, but that’s beside the point), but there are dozens of classics I’ve never read at all or have barely started. And that’s okay.
Sometimes we act as though certain books are going to forever change our lives and if we don’t read them, we’ll be worse people for it. While there may be an element of truth to this (one of the reasons I’m glad the Lord of the Rings movies did so well is because it got a bunch of folks reading well-written literature for the first time), most of the time we’re going to survive without reading most of the classic books that are out there. And despite what that little voice in the back of your head tells you, no one is going to look at you as if you’ve got two heads because you’ve not read The Pilgrim’s Progress or The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe.
They might be looking at you because it means it’ll be okay for them to admit they haven’t either.
That’s certainly not to say we shouldn’t strive to read classic books; indeed, we would all do well to read works that have had a profound impact on our culture or on the thinking of entire generations of Christians. I’m just saying it’s better to admit we haven’t read them if we really haven’t—and in doing so, perhaps it’ll give us the motivation we need to start.