A Response to GQ

April 26, 2018

I think there’s something to say about being curious. Curiosity, I believe, is a gift from God. After all, for many of His children curiosity is what started them on their own faith journey. Perhaps they intuitively knew there was some need in their hearts and they decided to curiously follow it. Or they had a laundry list of questions about a God they kept hearing about and they embarked to acquire answers, even if the answers didn’t immediately satisfy.

Either way, curiosity started it.

When you’re a professional, especially one with a literary background, you know the inherent value of reading the works of people who have gone before you. Examining their sentences, paragraphs, story structures, word choices, character creations, teaches you so much more than a simple textbook can. But it also challenges you, especially if something written in one of these works is hard for you to agree with. Maybe you even disagree with it outright and find it difficult to read it again. But in your heart—at the deepest core of who you are—and in your craft, you know you are a stronger literary artist for that challenge.

Let me try to explain this in concrete concepts rather than the abstract for just a moment.

History ill remembered is history that repeats itself. I remember being a teenager watching Israel get attacked for the umpteenth time and political commentators and Christians alike began advocating for all parents to take their children to Holocaust museums. Their fear was that if we didn’t intentionally remember the horrific near-extermination of the Jewish people by Adolf Hitler, then our world would increasingly become okay with the idea of a world without Israel.

The Holocaust is not a shining moment for the human race. But the principle of this story is this: when we intentionally remember the things we don’t want to remember, and pass those stories down and teach them to others, history tends not to repeat itself—at least not to the same severe degree.

A similar principle can be applied when learning about your craft. When you’re a writer, you learn about the best writers of times past (it’s likely you learned about them even before you became a writer or the career as such entered your heart and took hold). You take inspiration from stories like “Pride and Prejudice,” you learn good storytelling from journalists like Gay Talese, you attempt your own renditions of “The Lord of the Rings” or “The Chronicles of Narnia.” All these examples are works that have stood the test of time and inspired millions—some may have even angered a few readers here and there.

I am a writer. An aspiring professional writer (working toward that goal) and my nine-to-five job is as a copy editor. All day every day I am immersed in the literary world. Not everything I read I agree with, but I allow it to teach me. After all, I read for the purpose of learning, not to pick and choose what I agree with and then throw the rest away. Any good writer knows that being challenged is going to bear sweeter fruit in the future.

The same can be said of a Christian.

So why am I writing this? Last week, “GQ” (“Gentlemen’s Quarterly”) magazine published an article called “21 Books You Don’t Have to Read.” The byline simply said “The Editors of GQ.” Editors, contributors and published authors each gave a book they wished they had never read, claiming it to be too hostile, too narrow, too rough, too cheesy, too pointless and a waste of time. They then gave a suggestion of what book you should read instead.

One of the books I mentioned above—”The Lord of the Rings”—is on this list. Accompanying this book are other classics such as “The Catcher in the Rye,” “The Old Man and the Sea,” and “The Alchemist.”

The Bible made the list.

I could easily pick this one paragraph about the Bible apart, but in the end God will always defend Himself. His Word is truth (John 17:17) and gives life (Psalm 119:50) and changes people (Isaiah 40:8). Those facts are indisputable because I and many millions—today and throughout history—are living proof. So instead I will be examining this entire list and giving a more contemporary Christian perspective on what is written there.

Here’s how they prefaced this list—

“We’ve been told all our lives that we can only call ourselves well-read once we’ve read the Great Books. We tried. We got halfway through Infinite Jest and halfway through the SparkNotes on Finnegans Wake. But a few pages into Bleak House, we realized that not all the Great Books have aged well. Some are racist and some are sexist, but most are just really, really boring. So we—and a group of un-boring writers—give you permission to strike these books from the canon. Here’s what you should read instead.”

These editors, while having good intentions to give their subscribers something entertaining and something that wouldn’t waste their time because it’s “really, really boring,” have neglected a rather large principle of what it means to truly be well-read.

It’s not about how many classic books you’ve read (I’ve only read one or two in my entire life, but people have told me I’m well-read); it’s about what you took away from those books. If the only thing you took away from it was not liking one scene or thinking the author was a racist (granted, some were even one century ago) or a bleeding resentment toward the storyteller for not creating a more creative and colorful world, then you missed what that author, what that book was trying to teach you.

The best authors don’t sit down with the mindset that every person who reads their book is going to like it. The best authors who have honed their skills and learned from the best and been open to any and every idea…they want you to be challenged. They want you to walk away from the book they placed in your hands with the desire to keep growing, keep inquiring, keep striving to satisfy your curiosity.

I think there’s a good chance the writers of the 66 books found in the Bible had this mindset too. They had to have thought at some point while the Holy Spirit guided their pens that those words would upset people. But God knew, and knows, that when we read and inquire, we grow.

Don’t be like these editors. And if you do choose to read the books on their proposed list (link here), don’t read it as this-instead-of-this. Rather, read it as this-and-this. Every book, especially if you are a writer and even more so if you are simply a curious mind, and especially if you are a Christian or simply curious about the Bible, can teach you something. Even if what is taught makes you uncomfortable and angers you for a time (as their list angered me by what they said about the Bible) it still teaches you to be smart and use your words correctly. More so, it teaches you wisdom.

It is unwise to reject the words of another simply because you don’t like or agree with them. Give their words a chance. If you don’t, you’ll live your life wondering why no one enjoys talking to you—it’s because you don’t offer understanding.

Be wise. Don’t reject the opportunity to be curious and find answers. There’s a reason why Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, admonished his son:

“Get wisdom! Get understanding! Do not forget, nor turn away from the words of my mouth.”—Proverbs 4:5, NKJV.

Understanding and wisdom is a gateway through which to walk and if you do, God will bring countless opportunities for you to have conversations for His glory with people you never would’ve crossed paths with otherwise.

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