Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Green Books Campaign: In Bed with the Word

*logo by Susan Newman

This review is part of the Green Books campaign. Today 100 bloggers are reviewing 100 great books printed in an environmentally friendly way. Our goal is to encourage publishers to get greener and readers to take the environment into consideration when purchasing books. This campaign is organized by Eco-Libris, a a green company working to green up the book industry by promoting the adoption of green practices, balancing out books by planting trees, and supporting green books. A full list of participating blogs and links to their reviews is available on Eco-Libris website.

In Bed with the Word : reading, spirituality, and cultural politics / Daniel Coleman
University of Alberta Press, c2009.
142 p.

First things first: since I received this book as part of the Eco-Libris Green Books Challenge, I would like to mention why this book qualified. The University of Alberta Press states that it is committed to protecting our natural environment, and thus this book is printed on Enviro Paper, which contains 100% post-consumer recycled fibres, and is acid and chlorine free.
And not Green, but really nice, is the fact that in addition to the Green printing information on the back of the title page, the copy editor and the indexer are credited by name! I appreciated seeing that.

Besides the good start it gave me to read the Green cred and the nice acknowledgement of the other publishing professionals involved in creating this book, the actual size and feel and cover of the book were enticing. I chose this specific book from the selection at the Green Books campaign because I have been doing a lot of research into the meanings and purposes of reading in the last few months; as a librarian I have a strong interest in figuring out both how and why we read. This book is a fabulous addition to my collection in this area, and it is one I will continue referring back to.

Coleman's view of spirituality and reading is that spiritual longing is primarily a reaching outward for the Other; reading enables us to place ourselves into the mind of that Other we are searching for, that ever present absence that is not-us. He divides the book into five chapters, each of which discusses the same kind of idea from different perspectives. The first and third chapters were most intriguing to me: Reading & Longing, and Posture. What posture will we take when reading? What state of mind, to receive the full benefits of a reading experience? What, in our approach to reading, makes it a spiritual exercise? This book is full of fascinating, illuminating answers to these questions, and it raises others that I want to explore further. The author gave a series of classes based on this book, he tells us in the introduction, and by halfway through I was wishing I could have been there during that time -- there is so much to this book that lends itself to discussion and deep thought! Here are a couple of quotes from the book, where Coleman is talking about what makes reading 'spiritual' in the way he means it:

Reading is spiritual because it simultaneously emphasizes and spans this divide between the self and other, between the reader and the author, between the reader and the world, between the reader and God. We develop right posture when as readers we recognize the structure of absence or distance across which we long to pass, when we recognize our limitation and isolation, and when we discern the suppressed or hidden possibility of connection and belonging to the Other who seemed so far removed.

Reading can give us practice in important spiritual disciplines; it can help us develop our capacity for attention, it can increase our ability to listen, and it can help us develop mental organization and alertness. Reading can draw us out of ourselves and can give us practice in listening to the less obvious that's always going on around us. It can give us daily experience in reaching across the structure of absence so that we learn to read the present signs of the Other even in the Other's absence and, by that means, put ourselves in contact with communities that would not be available in our own time and place.
It is hard to pull ideas out of this book to share with you, as it is all one long interconnected thesis -- you are really best off to pick up a copy if this is a topic you are interested in. Coleman writes in a flowing style that, while academic, is also engaging and includes moments of quite lovely storytelling in its own right. His discussion of the topic, while dependent on concepts of spirituality coming from St. Augustine and on the purpose of words as signposts, from Derrida, is easily comprehended by a reader who is fascinated by the deeper meanings of the actual practice of reading itself, not just spirituality as evidenced by content of a text. I've really enjoyed this one and have flagged at least 20 passages to reread and ruminate on.

But the third part of this book's subtitle is "cultural politics". There is a place for this among the discussion of reading and spirituality; they all tie in together. I think it is best expressed by this excerpt on the front flap of the book:

Reading is not solely an exercise to feed one's inner life. Rather, eating the book -- not just nibbling at it, or having a little taste here or there, but eating it wholesale -- produces a changed person, an empowered person, a different kind of person, and changed people means social and political change, too, not just personal change.
So, in conclusion (otherwise I'll just keep excerpting the book until I've copied it all out!), this is a wonderful exposition of the links between reading and a spiritual way of approaching the world. It was a great read, a text to be savoured and not rushed through; if that kind of work appeals, please do find a copy of this excellent Canadian book and then share your impressions of it as well.

Highly recommended.


  1. I don't often read books on spirituality, but the excerpts you posted REALLY appeal to me. SO on the list this goes.

    Also, I'm loving how diverse the Eco-Libris campaign books are :)

  2. I think it's great that you also reviewed the physical book, i.e. the texture and feel of it. That's not done very often.

  3. I really enjoy spiritual reads, but I haven't read any lately. Thanks for the green book review.

  4. This was one of the books on the campaign list that I was very interested in reading; thanks for the review!

  5. This sounds completely unlike anything I've ever read, and fairly dense (in that I think it would require me to pay better attention than I sometimes do when reading) but I think I would really enjoy it.

  6. Nymeth - I am enjoying going through the list of Ecolibris reviews as well; there are so many different types of books!

    Colleen - the size and the texture of this book really did addd to my reading experience. The production values are obviously important to the press.

    Serena - I don't often read spiritual works either, but this one was irresistable.

    Phoenix - I'm glad you found the review and could enjoy it vicariously! I really enjoyed your review as well and now want to read about rail travel. :)

    kiirsten - that's the perfect description; dense, requiring attention, but very rewarding.

  7. I'm not sure this is the book for me, but I'm glad to see it's a green book. I wish more books were printed this way.

  8. bermudaonion - I know! Do you know, I never really thought about checking the books I'm going to buy, duh. Now I am much more aware of it.

  9. As this is my first time here, let me say how much I've enjoyed reading your blog with its spiritual emphasis. I think it's so important to look at matters of the heart, as the Little Prince would say. That's one of the most important reasons I read: to explore why and how as much as who and when. If that makes sense. Thanks for visiting me today. I enjoyed finding you. ;)

  10. I had never really considered normal, everyday reading a spiritual exercise. I do know that some books affect me in deeper ways than other books. Interesting topic.

  11. Oh, this sounds really interesting. It's going on my TBR list!

  12. DolceBellezza - I am glad to have found you as well - and that you liked this post. I felt that he did an excellent job with presenting the need for reading as a way of expanding our understanding of others and of opening our hearts to them.

    Brimful Curiosities - yes, his thesis really made me think about the ways in which everyday reading could be considered a spiritual exercise. Another point for me to use in promoting reading in my job!

    Stefanie - it was an interesting thesis, and was well written - not an academic talking to other academics, but a smart person explaining his view on something we all do. Fascinating reading.

  13. This really does look amazing. I have really gotten in touch with my spiritual side, thanks to Dr. Paul DeBell's latest book, "Decoding The Spiritual Messages of Everyday Life: How Life Teaches Us What We Need To Know." This book looks like it is up my ally also. Thanks for suggesting it.


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