Moving my books from one location in another is a literal labor of love. I don’t know the exact number, but I’d say I own at least a couple hundred. In the first two years I lived in Colorado, I moved around four different times, and each time I condensed my shelves beforehand to make the process a little easier. But in order to determine which books stayed in the “Keep” pile and which got packed in the “Donate to used book store” pile, I had a lot of rereading to do. I’m hoping to buy my first home this year (!) so now the process repeats.
It’s pretty amazing how the same book can read completely differently after several years. In many cases, this is a good thing. I probably wasn’t mature enough to fully understand the depth of To Kill a Mockingbird when I read it in ninth grade. Rereading it a few months before the release of Go Set a Watchman was an eye-opening revelation of just how much I had missed; how much symbolism flew right over my head. Many of the classics I’ve reread have that effect on me.
Not Catcher in the Rye, though. Holden Caulfield is still the whiny little booger I thought he was when I read him in 11th grade, but I think I understand him a little better now. Aren’t we all the hypocrites we love to hate at times?
Then there are the books that rocked my world the first time I read them at ages fifteen through eighteen. Many are a sore disappointment to reread at twenty-seven. It’s worth noting that I was far more conservative as a teenager and in my early twenties, whereas today I’m a bit more moderate. I’m rather proud of myself for placing Adam and Eve After the Pill by Mary Eberhardt (a book for a Catholic audience) right next to Jessica Valenti’s Full-Frontal Feminism (definitely not intended for a conservative audience. Or maybe it is. But Valenti herself is far from that end of the spectrum). Fifty Women Every Christian Should Know also shares a shelf with Fifty Jewish Women Who Changed the World. I’m still proud of the diversity of thought that exists on my shelves. But rereading some of these books makes me uneasy to keep them, as if the space on my shelf represents endorsement.
Feminine Threads by Diana Lynn Severance, for example, is a book about Christian women from the time of Jesus until the twentieth century who left their mark on the church. It sounds like it should be good reading for a history buff and theology nerd…except Severance couldn’t educate me about these unknown and underrated women without slamming feminism as the reason everything is wrong in the church. There’s disagreeing with an author, and then there’s being so repulsed by an author’s refusal to even try to see things from the other side that makes me want to throw the book across the room.
It saddened me to put that one in the “Donate” pile. Adam and Eve went, too. Not sure what I was expecting with that one, but again, a book that misinterprets feminism and renders it incompatible with faith is just not a book for me. I should also note that Valenti’s book isn’t exactly kind to the conservative views of sex and contraceptives, but there’s something about her spunky tone that makes it not bother me as much. There are some circumstances in which it doesn’t bother me to be offended, because sometimes it’s the only thing that teaches you empathy for people on the other side of an issue.
Still, I feel a bit hypocritical about getting rid of those books. Can’t I enjoy some parts of the book while disagreeing other parts? To what extent do I have to share an author’s worldview in order to enjoy their work? If it entertains or educates me in some way, then what does it matter?
I don’t want to be someone who only reads books that support her already existing worldview. I like being challenged. But I don’t like being generalized and talked down to.
Now, Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey sits next to Valenti’s Full Frontal, which just makes me giggle.