By Deacon John Degano
When I was in elementary school the public libraries used to have a summer reading program where everyone who signed up was given stickers for every five or so books they read over the summer. It was a great way to encourage reading and provided my parents a cheap form of entertainment for me until the time of our family vacation.
As I got older, the books got longer and I soon lost interest in such reading programs. By high school I had fallen into the bad habit of only reading what was assigned in class. This meant that summers seemed to go on forever… Boredom set in and my attitude plummeted sharply. My parents tried to encourage me to do something about it… “Take up a hobby or go someplace on your bicycle,” but I wasn’t budging. I just wanted to be miserable. And I wanted everyone to know it, as well.
That’s when my older brother introduced me to George Orwell’s Animal Farm. It was short, maybe 70 pages or so, and its story line intrigued me so much that I finished it in practically a single sitting. Unheard of at the time for me!
And that’s what brought reading back to life for me.
So why am I telling you this?
Because I am at a crossroads in my reading regimen.
Beloved authors have died or have ceased to write about the characters that had initially wooed me into reading their novels. I have over-indulged in spiritual reading (four books in the first three months of the year), and am now looking for something ‘light’ and innocuous.
I need to fall in love with reading once again.
And while I could go back to the classics and reread one or more of them, I know that their authors won’t be writing any more books so the sense of expectation is lost even before I begin. There is something in me hungering for new adventures. A commitment of characters and a world that will continue to grow and transform for the next phase of my life.
This search for ‘meaning’ compelled me last month to ask friends and family members, “What’s on your summer reading list?” and, I must tell you, I have been getting a lot of blank stares.
Perhaps it’s because they know that I do a lot of reading already. Or they think that it has to be something “religious.” Or they are embarrassed by the genre of books they are reading and don’t want to admit they are reading strictly for the fun and joy of reading.
I asked my mom on Mother’s Day what she would recommend. She didn’t respond right away. Not to let the subject drop, I asked her about an author I knew she had been reading for years (I think he’s written 50 or more books).
“Would you recommend him?” I asked.
“Not really,” she replied.
“What?” I thought. “Why would you continue to read someone you don’t like?”
Seeing the surprise in my expression, she added, “Some are okay. Others, not so much. I keep hoping for the best.”
And so should we all.
As people of faith we need to keep the flame of our hope burning brightly. We need to remember the words of St. Peter to always be ready to share “the reason for your hope.” To fear not! And to never judge a book by its cover. Even when that book is the Holy Bible.
I don’t know what book I will read this summer. I just know that I will enjoy the chance to get to meet new and interesting characters. And pray that they get to know me, as well.
John De Gano is a deacon serving at St. Catherine of Alexandria Parish in Riverside.