Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Beau Ideal

It wasn't until I was about thirteen or so that I wondered what to do with the sin in my reading material. I'm not saying that I was reading anything horrific, but until then, the story had been enough for me. I was so engrossed in whether Sir Percy would rescue the old priest, that I never noticed when 'something else' slipped out of his mouth in the process. I wanted to know 'whodunit' so bad, that I never absorbed the fact that good old Wimsey was winking at all his friends' and relatives' affairs.

And then I began a quest to find out how to overcome evil. I learned a great life lesson in the process.
Painstakingly, I began weeding out all the 'something else’s' and sordid 'whodunits' from my reading material. By the time I was done with my evaluations, my stack was pretty small, and I really wasn't enjoying the call of the page any more.

 Reading is almost like oxygen for me. If I have a book in my purse, I can wait in perfect content when the car breaks down or I have a dentist's appointment. And the bigger the book, the better. I remember waiting in a doctor's office for one of my family members, reading Dickens' Martin Chuzzlewit. The spine was probably a good two inches thick, and the book was nothing to sneeze at. I had to pause in my perusal to listen to an older gentleman exclaim over its size. Some of you can really relate. :) And if you can, you'll also relate, when I say that I can't breathe right if something is wrong amidst the shelves. (Figuratively, of course.)

It took me many months to figure out. Over a year in fact. But by the end of that time, I was slowly realizing that yes, I mustn’t excuse the evil, but my 'beau ideal' of a good book was totally unreal. Because, unconsciously, I was expecting all the books I read to be God-breathed and flawless.

I'm not saying that we should wink at sin. Some books I did whittle out of my stack for good. But God taught me that only He is perfect, so only He can write a flawless book. All other attempts by our sinful human natures will be only poor attempts to copy His perfection. And so when I choose to read a book by anyone other than God, I will encounter mistakes. I will encounter sin.

So how do I deal with this? I learned to take the imperfect to Perfection, and let Him teach me how to evaluate whether to keep or toss.

 Here are a few steps He has taught me to use after I’ve judged the book by its cover, and then begin on the text:

1. Prayer:

"If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him" (James 1:5).

God gives good gifts to all His children, and to those of them that are bibliophiles, He gives the gift of good books. He will direct and show you which ones He allows you to read. I find that my reading is individually tailored to my personal walk with Him. Sometimes He gives me a book to read that I may not recommend to others. Sometimes He says "They may, you may not," and I have to leave the book on the shelf. He always makes it abundantly clear when I ask Him for counsel.

2. Honor the wisdom of the authorities He has placed over you:

"Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching. They are a garland to grace your head and a chain to adorn your neck" (Proverbs 1:8-9).

Have you ever heard "What's that book?!" It's a warning signal. If you're not willing to share the storyline with your proper authorities, then you probably shouldn't be reading it. They ask because they love you, and it is their God-given duty to protect you. When I was young, my parents would say no sometimes, and I have always tried to trust them. Now that they have laid a foundation of trust they allow me freedom to examine and judge for myself, but I keep them informed so that they know I am trustworthy.

3. Cultivate a strong foundation:

"Wisdom will save you from the ways of wicked men, from men whose words are perverse, who have left the straight paths to walk in dark ways, who delight in doing wrong and rejoice in the perverseness of evil" (Proverbs 2:12-14)

If you spend the time of your youth developing a close prayer life with the Lord, studying out the principles of His Word in daily Bible reading, and listening with an open heart to preachers of His Truth, then you will be in tune with His Spirit, and you will find a limitless store of wisdom that you can carry into your literary adventures.

4. Trust the Lord to shield you:

"For the LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding. He holds success in store for the upright, he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless, for he guards the course of the just and protects the way of his faithful ones" (Proverbs 2:6-8).

God has never left me guessing, never thrown me upon my own resources. When I go to the library, or a bookstore, I often pray that He will shield me from temptation. He always has. He always will.

5. Face your fear:

"For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind" (2 Timothy 1:7).

Never be afraid to let the light of God's truth illuminate your bookshelves. He never takes away something that is beneficial, nor does He indulge in capricious revenge. He wants the very best for you. If you place yourself and your books in his hands, then what better place can there be?

A Few Practical Suggestions

But sometimes a book He tells me to keep, He also tells me to edit.

Here are a few things I do, when I find that the book I'm reading may not be 'the beau ideal' but contains redeemable content.

-Oftentimes such authors as Sir Walter Scott focus on highland or medieval cultures. These people could be very superstitious, bordering sometimes on witchcraft. When I read Ivanhoe or the Lady of the Lake, I don't feel comfortable reading about an animal sacrifice or someone's wicked incantations. To avoid this, I have to skip one chapter (or canto, as the case may be) and I don't have to deal with it at all in the rest of the story.

-In the WWII genre of fiction and biographies, the cruelties committed in German concentrations camps are sometimes suitcases I don't want to carry, such as in Eric Metaxas' Bonhoeffer. Maybe I'll skip a paragraph; maybe I'll skip an entire section. With a little editing, I can conform the book to my own needs and convictions.

-In cases where characters are particularly foul mouthed, I take correction tape and presto! it disappears as if they had never spoken it. (Obviously, I have to buy the book to make this happen.) Since I'm more interested in stories than collector's editions, I don't consider this to be defacing the book in any way, and it sure makes it a lot more enjoyable to read.

These are a few examples, but the principles stay the same, no matter the genre. What my dad told me time and time again when I was younger: "We don't do in pretend life what we wouldn't do in real life." Don't let your characters get away with things. :)

One more thought: If you've never done this type of editing before and would like to try, you might find a warning helpful before you begin. You will most likely encounter someone that thinks this unnecessary, and tries to laugh you down. But I would encourage you to remember that editing is not cheating or over-reacting. I do it to take captive every book to the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. I play by His rules, and read by His standards. And if I am following the commands that he has laid forth in Scripture, then that is the only necessary thing. You read according to your conscience, not according to the fear of man.

What do you do to edit the books you read? I'd love to hear your thoughts and suggestions to help me further in my own reading adventures.


Lady Bibliophile

Next Time...

Ready for a little fun? Lord willing, I'll post my first book review this Friday, on one of my favorite authors. Hopefully the first of many more to come.

Don't forget! I love special requests. Do you have a favorite you'd like to see a review on? Send me an email, or leave me a comment, and I'll certainly try to include it.


  1. Dear Lady B:

    I've really been enjoying your posts, and I know that you have many more special ones in store for us.

    The Lord has certainly blessed my heart through the things you have written. It's so exciting to see you desiring to follow Him and in turn watch Him bless you with things to share.

    I have one idea--I love looking at other readers' booklists because it often sparks ideas for new, fresh reading material. So if and when you decide to share one/some, I'll have a lot of fun looking.

    I've definitely got this blog in my favorites--looking forward to the first review:)!

  2. I appreciate your thoughts on this, though I have never edited a book...although I understand why one would.

    I too often find myself thinking about these things, especially as I often read ancient or medieval works, some of which are pretty ghastly in parts (I will probably never read the Orlando Furioso again, but if I do, there are parts I will be skipping).

    Like you, I ended up realising that there can be times and seasons even for reading dubious books. Just because a book might be worth reading doesn't mean everyone should read it, or that a book which might be good for me to read now would have been just as good when I was 13!

    I do believe that an author may depict a character doing bad things, without condoning that behaviour. Ulrica's hymn to the pagan gods as Front-de-Boef's castle burns in Ivanhoe, for example, doesn't bother me any more than her bitter, vengeful, warped spirit does. In fact Scott may be showing that the paganism is the real cause of Ulrica's bitterness--just because the character may be blameworthy doesn't mean that the author is. :)

    1. I so agree, Suzannah! I'm always glad to find another editor, like me. :) It's a wonderful library out there, and I find that the more I edit, the more I can read without excusing wrong. I know people who take it much farther than I do; they'll edit out whole plot lines! The Way We Live Now, by Anthony Trollope, was one that I read with my "Christian glasses" on, as he wasn't necessarily coming from a Christian perspective. I really enjoyed doing that, and sometimes I think I get more out of books that require some thought, because they force me to evaluate for myself, rather than having the Christian authors evaluate for me. :)

      Lady Bibliophile

  3. Hello Schuyler!

    It's been well over a year since you wrote this blog post, but I just had to comment as I seem to have missed reading this and I enjoyed it very much. :)

    Thank you for touching base on this topic. I often wonder with some of the classics I read and textbooks that have no Christian foundation, how to avoid reading the sinful scenarios and words that seem so "caked" in these books. They certainly are in no way God-honoring.

    Masking tape would be a wonderful tool for those bad words that writers simply do not need to use in order to "write a good book"--or so they think. It reminds me so much of Hollywood, where they believe they need to make suggestive films in order to attract potential viewers. In books, writers may need to stick close with historical "trends"--as you mentioned about the superstitious people in the highland books of Sir Walter Scott. But in his and other authors' endeavors to write about such sinful acts, they of course fail to speak out against them. Which is as bad as advocating them, IMO.

    I very much look forward to using your helpful tips, Schuyler.

    Keeping posting. :)


  4. Dear Anna,
    I am glad that you found this post encouraging, and especially grateful that it is still bearing fruit. :) After all, that's what the purpose of these articles are--to be a resource for people to reference, no matter when they are written.

    I am sure that you must have to do a lot of sifting with your college work, especially the CLEP books. You are doing a great job, I know, and I hope these tips will be helpful to you! :) I am amazed when I think of the ambitious undertaking all that college studying is, especially for someone like you, who is using a new means to do it. ;)

    The great thing about this 'editing' mindset is that it becomes more natural the more you do it, to the point where you don't even think about it anymore. In fact, once I lent a lady a book I thought was really good, and rather to my surprise, she didn't like it nearly as much as I did. Then I realized that perhaps the book itself wasn't quite as solid as I had thought--it was all the things I added to it from a Christian perspective as I went along!

    I'm so glad you stopped by! Have a blessed Sunday. <3


  5. What a wonderful idea! I have never thought of it, but I see I'll have to start, as this is such a decent solution to a problem I have had. I happen to have 5 young sons, so one thing I do is edit as I read aloud. I simply change words or skip paragraphs as I read, but then they don't get to read some books themselves if they would like. I would adore a list of recommended books for children/teens from you, if you ever have the inclination :).

    1. Yes, the read-aloud skipping is a great solution, and one I often employ too, even though our family is 14 up now. :) My mom did that often with us children growing up.

      As I grew older, I found the 'mental editing' mindset was key to develop, because it helps not only with sin or language, but also with sifting through author mindsets as well. While I was young I was glad to read books which were as clean as possible and lay a firm foundation, but now that I am older and that foundation is in place, I am enjoying collecting the good from a wide variety of sources, and sifting the rest through a Christian mindset. :)

      God bless as you help your boys with this!

      I have a list of books which I recommended for 12yo here:


      And my sister wrote a book review of a series we enjoy: http://ladybibliophile.blogspot.com/2012/10/raiders-from-sea.html

      And while I haven't done a list for young children yet, I highly recommend this article at another book blog you might enjoy reading on books for boys: http://www.vintagenovels.com/2011/07/books-for-boys.html



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