I started reading fiction because one of my doctoral professors said it was okay. Here’s how it happened.
I attended The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. In many ways, seminary was a great experience. While there I discovered my love for biblical languages, my love for preaching, and–at last–my call to pastor.
As good as it was, seminary was just that painful. The fundamentalists took over while I was a student there–in the dead center of my tenure. Among the many life-squelching tenets of the fundamentalism that took hold at Southern was the prohibition against women ministers. The refrain I heard nearly every day by the time time left Southern was: “Women can’t preach; women can’t pastor.”
What was a woman who had just gotten in touch with her call to pastor to do? My professors–to a one–discouraged me from seeking a pastorate. (Wise advice.) They all encouraged me to pursue doctoral studies. And since I was pretty good at translating biblical Hebrew, they suggested Old Testament studies. So…I went to Emory University in Atlanta to pursue a PhD in Hebrew Bible.
By the second semester of my work at Emory…well, let’s just say I had not distinguished myself as a scholar of the Hebrew Bible. One professor told me gently, “Kim, there are lots of people in the world who are happy without a PhD.” Okay.
Another professor in the department could tell I was struggling. She invited me to stop by her office one day. I did. “What’s up?” she asked. By that point, I was so unhappy in the program I had no words to describe my despair.
After a few failed attempts on my part, my professor told me a story. She had gone to a prestigious school to earn a law degree. During her coursework, she often came home in tears. Finally, her husband one day said, “You know, you don’t have to get a degree in law.” When she recognized that law school wasn’t doing it for her, she changed programs and was much happier.
The other thing she did, she told me, was to begin reading fiction every day. “Fiction?” I asked, just to be sure I’d heard correctly. “Yes, fiction,” she said. “I just need a break from everything else once a day….just a little escape.” At that point, I asked her what she was reading currently. She mentioned the Church of England series by Susan Howatch. A fun series. As soon as I left her office, I drove to the bookstore and bought the first book in that series.
Now, I, too, read fiction nearly every day. I can’t say that most of it is intellectually edifying–I tend to stick close to the “cozy mystery” genre. But that little escape? It really feels like a gift I give myself every day.
When I finally graduated with my PhD ten years later (yes, ten) from a different doctoral program, I sent my Hebrew Bible prof a thank you note….not only for giving me permission to change doctoral programs, but also for encouraging me to read fiction. What a gift!
Okay…you want to know what I’m reading right now? Two books–“Casting Off,” by Nicole R. Dickson (for the church’s book club) and “Bluest Blood,” by Gillian Roberts (a “cozy mystery”).
I enjoy reading lots of genres…more about those another day.
Do you read fiction? What kind? And why?
I’ve been devouring fiction since I was a baby — Dr. Seuss was always a favorite. It’s a way to escape the pressures and frustrations that sometimes come with the call of pastor, a time away to relax and dive into another world for an hour — a world in which I’m not in charge and I don’t have to fix anything or make anyone happy. I rarely read “serious” fiction, though — that’s not an escape, but work! Recently it’s been all about “romantic suspense” – which is usually totally unrealistic life situations but fun, and sci-fi/fantasy. Check out the Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher, about a grown-up wizard named Harry who solves crimes.