Saturday, April 8, 2023

On Selecting Reading Material

I wasn't the only one who wishes to learn to read slowly. I loved connecting with a number of you on this topic, both in real life and by email. And some of you left some great thoughts in the comments of the last post. 

Bethany said that she did a book reading challenge last year to encourage herself to read more deeply in physical books.

Beverly says that she is writing out Scripture in cursive as a way to slow down and think on what she is reading, and Dee says she is paring down her online reading to only a handful of sites that truly builds her walk with God.

Mary Kathryn gave some specific poetry recommendations, and Jessica says that she found that she enjoys children's poetry best.

I've been thinking more about why I didn't think I liked poetry. I know that part of the reason was that I was trying to consume it too fast, to bolt it down. Poetry is like cheesecake. It must be eaten slowly and savored. While a novel can be inhaled in an afternoon, doing the same with poetry gives indigestion. 

But also, when I've tried reading poetry, I liked some poems, but not nearly all, so I thought I didn't enjoy poetry.

What kind of crazy thinking is that? Why did I think I didn't like poetry just because I didn't like every poem that I read?

When I walk into a library or bookstore, do I like every book? Of course not. I have no desire to read most books, either because of the content or the style. But I don't decide that just because there are many books that I don't like, I don't like books. If I read a novel I don't like, I don't decide I hate all fiction. If I read a biography I don't like, I don't decide I hate all biographies. 

I have no desire to read most of the hundreds of thousands of books published in the US this year, even if I could. Over the years, I have learned to evaluate the books I read and figure out what kind of books I most enjoy so that I can select more books that I enjoy. 

Take a genre such as fiction. There is a lot of fiction that I dislike, but there are some I love. When I find one I like, I try to find more books like it. That may mean looking for more books by the same author. Or books that are listed as similiar to the one I liked. I've also paid attention to friends who like the same books that I do and ask them for recommendations. As I learn more about my own reading tastes, I spend less time reading books that aren't a good fit for me.

Maybe I need to change the way I look at poetry. Maybe, like other genres, I won't like most of what is published. But maybe I can find a few authors I enjoy. Or ask friends with similiar tastes for recommendations. Maybe I can discern what style of poetry I most enjoy. 

The good think about poetry is that it is short so if I do read a poem that I don't enjoy, I've not wasted a lot of time. I've decided that I like poems that I can understand, that I can find meaning in, yet aren't trite. I want some element of surprises or impression of "Me, too!" when I read a poem. I want to feel some kind of emotion such as sadness, conviction, joy, or gratitude. I don't want to be completely bewildered. I've read poems and thought, I understand every word but don't have a clue what the author is talking about.

I think I prefer modern poetry toward old classics. And maybe that makes sense. We don't hand A Tale of Two Cities or Moby Dick to a beginning reader. Maybe I need to strengthen my poetry reading muscles before I can take on Milton or Keats.

I don't like poems where the rhyme and rythym feel forced. In some poems, I found the word choices distracting. (Why did they use that word 'vain'? Oh, I guess they had to find a rhyming word for 'rain.' Insert eye roll.) 

For a while I didn't think I liked metered rhyming poems. Free verse may still be my favorite, but when I read a poet such Malcom Guite, I don't think about rhyme or meter. So maybe it has more to do with the skill of the writer. Some writers carry me along on the words with no jarring distractions just to find a rhyme. This is what I'm looking for in a poem. (And maybe if I'd try writing poetry I'd have more compassion for the poems that feel contrived. I'm sure producing quality poetry is intensely difficult.)

For me, finding that there are specific poems I like and acknowledging that, like most genres, I won't like most poetry, has helped me enjoy poetry more. 

And though I said I didn't really enjoy poetry, I realized that I currently have three poetry books on my bedside table. One was a gift, one is borrowed, and one I bought. These three have been there for a while, as I dabble in them slowly.

I've already mentioned Word in the Wilderness, compiled by Malcolm Guite. Calling Your Name by Janice Etter is from a talented German Baptist writer from Indiana that I met once. Leaf 2022 is published by The Curator with new poetry and a few prose pieces from Anabaptist writers.

Want to read a bit of poetry? I recommend The Curator website and Malcolm Guite's website for places to start. You probably won't like everything, but maybe you'll find one or two that you do enjoy.


  1. I subscribed to The Curator just now. I discovered I have a couple of children's poetry books and we have a book of Longfellow poems. So I'm going to really try to expose myself to poetry and read very slowly because I do read fast. I will give you an update at the end of the month. And please if possible do the same.

  2. April is National Poetry Month. It is meant to encourage the writing of poetry, but I don't see why the reading of poetry cannot be part of NPM, also. Go here:
    There might be other sites for NPM, too.

  3. Thanks for all you shared here! Really enjoyed your thoughts. And it makes me very happy to see Leaf 2022 on your bedside table=)

  4. Although I like poetry, I'm not good at reading it. I have appreciated the poetry by Ruth Bell Graham. It is free verse but is sensitive and beautiful. G.A. Studdert-Kennedy has written some great poetry. An especial favorite of mine is titled "Indifference">


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