Know Thyself: A Cautionary Tale

One thing I love about my 2016 reading challenge is that it has given me the motivation and the framework to read a large variety of books in a short amount of time. Through writing blog posts, starting a book club (more on that later!), one-on-one conversations, and some serious introspection, I have started to discover something about myself: my moods, mindset, and state of well-being can be very tied up in what I am currently reading. When I read books that are very sad, I have a hard time not being sad about other things in my life; when I read funny books, I tend to think everything I see is hilarious; when I read books about people with mentally and emotionally unstable lives, I feel a a little unstable myself.

I am not sure why this feels like a new discovery to me–I have seen it time and time again in my life. As a fourth child, I have always been VERY prone to the power of suggestion. If one of my sisters enjoys a band, I probably will too. If they buy a shirt, I will borrow it and wear it until it falls apart. Music and movies have always had powerful emotional control over me. In college, I had to stop listening to sappy country love songs because they created unhealthy discontentment with my present circumstances.

As I look back at the last books I have read, I see several heavy titles. In the last 3 weeks I have read When Breath Becomes Air (non-fiction about a terminally ill neurosurgeon), The Girl on the Train (murder mystery thriller with some seriously unstable characters), The House at Riverton (another murder mystery, although certainly less dark than The Girl on the Train), and finally Gone Girl (psycho characters, manipulation, deceit, r-rated content). I did have one lighter read in there (Bossypants by Tina Fey), but it was an audio book, so that was a little bit different. After finishing Gone Girl, I could tell a serious shift in my mood. I was anxious, irritable, and overall a little unsettled. I debated whether I should even talk about it on the blog, but decided to use it as part of my cautionary tale.(side-note: I do NOT recommend this book to just anybody. It is dark and coarse and there are definitely parts I wish I could get out of my head. It was a gripping story with some crazy twists, and not for the faint-of-heart.)

I started a new book the next day that is a complete change of pace: Surprised by Oxford by Carolyn Weber. It is a beautifully written memoir of a graduate student describing her journey to faith during her time at Oxford. This book is packed with Truth and light and conviction and rich quotes from the greatest literature of all time. After a few hours of reading, I found myself in a completely different emotional place. And I don’t think that is a coincidence.

I am learning that I need to be careful about what I allow to dominate my reading life. I’m not saying I won’t ever read books that are sad or difficult or edgy or uncomfortable, but I am certainly saying that I need to be much more intentional about diving into books that are uplifting as well. So many best sellers or classics have challenging themes, and I think that can be a great thing. The world is full of difficult situations, and I think reading is a great window to learn about and grapple with real, hard things. Moving forward, however, I am going to try to know myself a little bit better and respect that in the books I choose to read. I am going to throw more books into the mix that will feed my soul instead of making it vulnerable.

Have you found certain books or themes that you have to avoid or take in moderation in your own reading life? 



4 thoughts on “Know Thyself: A Cautionary Tale

  1. Carol says:

    I think this rings very true and reminds me of Phil 4:8. It is important to read hard things and not wear rose-colored glasses, but don’t underestimate the power of a story to influence the mind. I have opted not to read some very popular books for that very reason. (Example: The DaVinci Code)

    Good for you that you choose to stretch but also use wisdom in your choices. Love reading your blog!


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