Franz Kafka said, “we ought to read only books that bite and sting us.” What’s the last thing you read that bit and stung you?
I consume a vast amount of words each day, mostly online. I read or skim hundreds of articles each day both for my personal interest and for my professional duties.
What I don’t do as much is read books or magazines. It is something that I miss so I’ve made a concerted effort of late to read at least a few chapters every day of something that’s not digital. I do cheat a bit and read books from the library on my tablet, but let’s not get caught up in that distinction. 🙂
This weekend, I spent a few hours organizing a book-case in our living room. It is filled with CDs, DVDs, board games and books, books that were shoved into this case with no rhyme or reason. Most of our shared collection of books are in the attic, packed in boxes. My dream is to have a set of built-in bookcases in the attic to make the books more accessible. But for now, I’m content to reshelve and organize our downstairs case. If you stop over, you’ll see ‘The Real Lesbian Sex Book’ and a tattered copy of Rudyard Kipling as well as lots of novels. But I digress …
One book that I was surprised to find in this collection was ‘The Feminine Face of God’ which my first introduction to any feminist critique. I bought it in August 1992, right after it was published. I was living at my old college for the summer before heading to Louisiana for graduate school. I was restless both intellectually and emotionally as well as terrified of grad school. I remember the sensation of laying on my back and reading the book, my jaw dropping open as I absorbed the words. Some of the experiences were quite literal for me and I was just amazed that anyone else had them. I thought I was just nuts.
It bit me, to say the least. I was shaken quite a bit and uncertain what to do with that. So I read it again before I left for Louisiana and then became so immediately busy that I lost sight of reading anything outside of coursework. My colleagues in the Political Science department were a bit conservative, but my roommate was a sociologist so I was quickly introduced to a slew of very liberal feminists. And things fell into place. They were mostly not religious or part of traditions that were not Christian, so I still felt a little bit of an outsider.
Eventually, I landed in Western Kentucky during social service ministry with the Catholic Church. I met more feminist theologians and learned about Liberation Theology. So I dug out the book and reread it. Then it was packed away for the next twenty odd years, following me from place to place.
So … now, I wonder – should I reread it? Was it intentional that the book fell into my hands this weekend? My hesitation is that this book meant a lot to me and I’m fearful it will turn out to be classic second-wave feminist critique with no intersectional nuance at all. That doesn’t negate my experience of the book, but it might be better to read something more current. Do I even feel drawn to feminist theology now?
A friend once told me that I would be best served by returning to the roots of my own faith to find peace. That resonated with me – I’ve always been very turned off by people who appropriate other cultures in the name of religion. Perhaps grad school did ruin me in the sense of expecting people to read the full canon before they start spouting excerpts on their social media channels. But the roots of my Catholic culture are not very comforting or appealing. It is a violent. misogynistic, oppressive history. It certainly, however, isn’t hard to find incarnations of the feminine face of God in Catholic tradition.
Obviously if it I invest this much time into a blog post about the decision to read a book, I should read the book. 🙂