In Bed with the Word : reading, spirituality, and cultural politics / Daniel Coleman
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.
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.
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.