War and Peace and Devotion and David and Goliath

At the beginning of the year, I set a goal to read 12 books in 2015. That’s one a month – totally reasonable, I figured. I like to read.

That was before I discovered audiobooks.

I finished two books yesterday – Devotion by Dani Shapiro and War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. I’ve always wanted to read Russian novels but never took a Russian lit class where they were required, and the heft and weight of books like War and Peace intimidated me. Who has time to read War and Peace, and how good is it really? War, after all. I don’t like war.

I loved War and Peace. I loved its characters and its ebb and flow between scene and dialogue and essayistic reflections on war and human nature, I loved Tolstoy’s astute assessments of character and the inner workings of men and women, I loved the relationships and the interactions and the “tragic humor” of Russians, I loved it soo much I didn’t want to get out of the car after my commute to and from work. I am so happy for the characters in the novel and so sad that it’s over.

I started listening to Devotion by Dani Shapiro when for two whole days, I couldn’t renew War and Peace. I also loved Devotion, which is not a Russian novel, but we can’t ALL be Leo Tolstoy, amIright or amIright? I loved Devotion for its honesty and self-exploration, for its wrestling with matters of faith and its resolution without resolution, for Shapiro’s sincerity of pursuit and her desire to comprehend matters of faith and devotion in the midst of suffering and uncertainty.

This morning, I began listening to David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell, and I am loving that, too, already. I love books. Books books books, all day, reading reading reading. With my usual hour or so commute, plus a ten minute walk to and from my car during which I continue listening to whatever I’m listening to currently, I get in a solid 140 minutes of “reading” a day.

This gives me about 700 minutes a week of reading time, a little under 11 hours each week. Gladwell and Shapiro’s books are each about 7 hours long, which means I could conceivably finish at least a book a week this year, so long as I don’t sign up for many more Russian novels (the unabridged War and Peace clocked in at a mere 61 hours).

Twelve books in 2015. Psha.

What I love about books – all books, whether novel or self-help or spiritual or nonfiction or poetry – is the power they have to make me a different person. By reading these stories and listening to these people share their personal accounts or fictitious accounts or contemporary assessments of life, I discover with every book yet another sliver of humanity. Another example of the connectedness of our species. Another witness to the fact that we are all wrestling, we are all stretching, we are all striving for understanding. We are not alone, and behind each book is a person telling us so, sharing part of his or her story. We are built out of story and live through story, we find meaning through story. Sharing our stories with each other defines who we are. Reading other people’s stories shows us humanity.

Also, I can’t stand morning radio talk shows.

Published by Sarah M. Wells

Sarah M. Wells is the author of The Family Bible Devotional: Stories from the Gospels to Help Kids and Parents Love God and Love Others (2022), American Honey: A Field Guide to Resisting Temptation (2021), Between the Heron and the Moss (2020), The Family Bible Devotional: Stories from the Bible to Help Kids and Parents Engage and Love Scripture (2018), Pruning Burning Bushes (2012), and a chapbook of poems, Acquiesce, winner of the 2008 Starting Gate Award through Finishing Line Press (2009). Sarah's work has been honored with four Pushcart Prize nominations, and her essays have appeared in the notable essays list in the Best American Essays 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017, and 2018. Sarah is the recipient of a 2018 Individual Excellence Award from the Ohio Arts Council. She resides in Ashland, Ohio with her husband and three children.

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