Monday, March 2, 2009

Abbie Smith: Reader Interview

Current Position/Title: Graduate student (Talbot Seminary—Masters in Spiritual Formation) and writer/author

(Abbie’s book Can You Keep Your Faith in College? is currently available at the CPYU resource center at a discounted price of $11, shipping included)

CPYU: Have you always been a reader? If not, how did you become one?

AS: I have certainly not always been a reader. And still wouldn’t call myself a terribly “good” one. I read a lot, but am still trying to learn the act of retaining. I actually don’t remember reading much before high school, and even then, I was most privy to Cliff Notes (maybe explaining my 2 on the AP English exam?). In college I started reading a decent amount, probably because I found something that awakened my soul. My controlled, containable world of high school, all of the sudden met this flirtatious ground of college, where immeasurable amounts of intellect, experience and passion surrounded me. I took to the flirting well and, well, I guess that’s what made me a reader.

CPYU: What are your reading habits and practices?

AS: I’d love to say there’s continuity here, but that would be a lie, and I’m trying to at least practice the habit of honesty. Certain seasons tend to lend more, or less, time for pleasure reading, often dictated by certain seasons requiring more, or less, time requiring research and/or school-related reading. I can readily admit to a book, reading, or knowledge addiction—or maybe all of them. Something of it is met by a discipline (and developed enjoyment) of reading every day, whether it’s blogs, books, or the LA Times, but something of it remains unmet, evidenced by dusty piles titled, “want-to-read-but-will-realistically-never-have-time.”

CPYU: Name 3 books that have been very influential in your life and one sentence that explains why.

AS: The Bible, by God: Call me over-spiritual, or simply trying to impress you with my heights of spirituality, but I promise neither is true. I simply find this text one of the most magical, difficult, centering, superior acts of literature ever to take ink.

The Shack, by William Young: This is a contemporary work, and one that has taken a more recent influence on me. I’ve found it to offer a healthy treatment to some of man’s most dehabilitating questions.

The Poetry of Saint Therese of Lisieux, translated by Donald Kinney. I initially bought this book because it had the English translation, as well as the original French (I often toy with the idea of polishing-up ma Française, unsuccessfully). The wisdom and divine vigor in this young girl astounds me.

CPYU: If you could meet any author, living or dead, who would it be and what questions would you ask him or her?

AS: This is a tough question and probably one that could change on the hour, but for now I’ll say C.S. Lewis. I find that he’d be exceptionally entertaining, as well as incredibly insightful. We’d probably meet over pints at some quaint little pub, where I’d offer the most mundane questions I could think of, like reasons he’s been frustrated this week, or how he proposed to his wife. Oh and I just can’t resist giving another one here—Maya Angelou. I would ask her just to start talking.

CPYU: According to a recent study by the National Endowment of the Arts, very few young people are reading. Do you have any ideas on how to get young people to read?

AS: I watched the Disney Channel today, for the first time since I was probably twelve. With one eye on the screen and the other on the mesmerized kids on my lap, all I could think was, “Wow, we’re up against a lot.” Reading was once considered an entertaining and enjoyable medium, whereas nowadays, it seems that its considerations are scholastic at best, and a boring waste of time at worst. A slow afternoon perusing pages in front of the fireplace has been traded-in for the fast-paced immediacies of Xbox and MySpace. One embraces a journey, while the other expects a gratifying jump into a finale.

So might we as leaders, parents, or educators do? First off, I think we must accept the reality that we’re fighting a world of instant gratification that will beat us if we take the traditional path. Contemporary culture “does not have the time” that reading a book requires—they want the start, climax and finish in one sitting. And when that sitting is over, or becomes stale, they’ll find the next edition. That said, I think we’ve got to be open to the reality that, a) some will never join us and b) some just need a creative bridge to get there. Whereas one kid might light up at Keating and Tolstoy, ten others could take every effort to engage with a comic book. Today’s youth are more apt, or attracted, toward activities allowing them to lead the story, whereas books require the ink and margins to hold these reigns. And for this time of our generation, at least, blogs and audio books may have to allow themselves into our paradigms of “reading.” I think such doing would not only value the playing ground of our audience, but it would also, at some point I suppose, bridge them into longings for further awakening—and maybe less instant and ecstatic ones.

I mine as well throw this in, but I personally don’t own a television. Such an option seems ludicrous for the average American family (click here for a heyday of TV stats), but maybe we could take smaller steps, like “unplugging screens” during mealtimes, or limiting hours watched per day? Like it, or not, there will be an element of discipline, if we expect anything to change. Increasing one statistic requires the decrease of another. I’ll say this and then be done, but as with my story, people change because their souls have been awakened. To transform this generation, we must first learn to see eye-to-eye with their stories, studying their ways and grasping their realities. And then, as we slowly grow to know them, and they slowly grow to trust us, invitations into journeys of the written word will undoubtedly awaken.

Past Reader Interviews
Paul Robertson, CPYU Associate Staff

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