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Title: Book Reflections
by Lydia Penner

Early Years

I WAS AROUND four years old when I remember first being captivated by a book. My parents read to me from a German picture book of poems. After much careful perusing, I was thrilled to spot a yellow bird in a window of one of the pictures, a bird I’d never noticed before. It was like finding a treasure.

I also remember a series of blue hardcover books of Bible stories that my dad read to me every evening. Its classic Bible pictures and stories were imprinted on me, and formed the terrain of my young imagination.

child with bookMy Grade 4 teacher read to us from a series of adventure books by Enid Blyton called The Castle of Adventure (and The Mountain of Adventure ,etc.), which I loved as much as I loved that teacher. The series was read to us not too long after my oldest sister died of leukemia. Perhaps it was a stable, idyllic world for me to escape into amid my family’s dark time.

Teenage Years

It was at the Henderson Public Library in Winnipeg that I had my first religious experience as a young teenager. Those aisles in the basement library were so familiar to me, with the sound of the bowling pins in the distance emanating from the next-door bowling alley. I’d watch the librarians carefully copy out the call number on the two cards, then stamp the book. That library was a world apart from the Mennonite world I inhaled daily.

The book that made time stand still for me was a book by Kahlil Gibran. I assume it was The Prophet, his most famous, but I’m not sure. I read the poems and his poetic, spiritual language, and I felt transfixed, his words like a balm. I always thought of that moment as being the onset of my adult spiritual path – beyond the religious naiveté of a child. The words seemed so beautiful and my heart caught fire. I still love Gibran.

A book in high school that stuck out for me was Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo, a book about World War I which struck me with its intense suffering and the protagonist’s agonizing struggle and desire to communicate despite the massive setback of his war wounds.

Adulthood and University Years

library in mirrorOne engrossing book that was formative for me was M. Scott Peck’s A Road Less Traveled. I read it on a bus traveling to visit a friend in St. Catharine’s, Ontario when I was around 24. His definition of love – of extending yourself for the well-being and growth of another - really struck me, and has stayed with me ever since. Peck wrote about an example of parents who loved their child this way. I think that was the beginning of becoming re-parented: old ways of thinking beginning to drop away. Also his concept of “Life is difficult” was a new way of thinking, making me realize that struggle is not a bad thing.

"In A Road Less Traveled Scott Peck defines love..."In university, Saving the Appearances: A Study in Idolatry by Owen Barfield, was influential in developing a critical mind. The idea of primary and secondary experience was introduced in this book, and helped me understand how to better look at history and development. I remember looking at this book like it was Greek when I bought it, and when I expressed this to my prof, he said encouragingly, “You can do the book review, give it your best shot and see what happens.” I ended up loving the book and the whole course, “Religious Quest in the Modern Age.” We read books like Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot and Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov.

I’d also say that the thin volume Letters to Paul: Conversations in Context by Calvin J. Roetzel trained me in understanding how to read the Bible.

I also love reading the newspaper. I see it as a relaxing adventure where I’m seeking for nuggets of gold – well-written articles and interesting news. I have writers whom I follow with devotion in the Winnipeg Free Press: Paul McKie (humour), Lindor Reynolds (humour and human interest stories), Christopher Dafoe (contemplative reflective). I read Fred Brick every Sunday. He is this cheesy writer whose stories I find curiously funny. I always read the “Sunday Focus”, a column of reflections on some aspect of life written by different people. And the book reviews and top 10 book lists every Sunday point me back to the bookstore.

blue rule

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