The summer of my freshman year of high school, I was given a reading list. It was one of those ‘100 Books that every educated person should read” lists, designed to encourage and guide young minds such as mine towards worthwhile literary works. Since I couldn’t yet drive, and my family was not exactly rich, my entertainment for the summer was going to the public library with my mother and sister to load up on books.

Every other week, we’d drive the six or seven miles to the nearest public library, and I’d take my list along and try to find the works mentioned. My goal was to read through all of them by the time school started in the fall.  I didn’t make that goal. But I did manage to read at least 20 or 30 really good books that I might otherwise never have heard about. I would cross books off as I finished them, and there was a great sense of satisfaction to that simple process. I would imagine it is as satisfying as beating a video game, though in my experience, I rarely get the same satisfaction and education from beating a video game.

On a recent visit to family in February, I began rereading John Steinbeck’s classic, The Grapes of Wrath. I had read it during that summer reading binge many, many, many years ago. But rereading it has been fantastic. Enough time has elapsed since I first read it that it’s really like reading it for the first time. Add to that the fact that quite literally I’m a different person from when I was 14, and the book takes on new dimensions and appreciations that were not possible as a lad with no life experience.

I think that I’ll embark on another reading binge – for the rest of my life. I read a lot in my line of work. There are wonderful reasons to fill my time and mind with theological ponderings and explorations. But there’s something very definite to be argued for spending time in the literary classics. Explorations of the human condition, insights into people and places I’ve never directly experienced, and the joy of connecting myself to a literary tradition that has sustained our culture for hundreds of years.

Or at least connecting myself to the awkward adolescent I was when I read some of these classics for the first time, so long ago.

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