I’m stuck. Stuck in a reading rut. And I really don’t mind.
A good many years ago, I found myself hooked on the A&E Network series Nero Wolfe. It was a great series with some fine actors. The casting, I know now, was perfect. But producing it was expensive, cheap “reality” TV was beckoning, and it was canceled after two seasons, making way for more of the mind-numbing fare we now expect.
That TV series introduced me to Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe opus. Over the years, I’ve read the thirty-three books (plus short stories) more than once and consumed the unabridged audio versions.
The test of a good book is whether or not it’s worth re-reading. Granted, the Nero Wolfe novels are not going to crowd William Faulkner’s books for literary excellence, but they’re still great fun. Hey, blackened mahi-mahi with Alexander sauce has its place, but so does a great hamburger. I just like spending time with the eccentric genius detective, Nero Wolfe, and his confidential assistant (and goad), Archie Goodwin.
Great writers create worlds that you enjoy visiting, worlds you can visit at will (which is almost a miracle) when this one becomes tiring or tedious or oppressive, or just when you need something bigger or different or soul-enlarging. As C.S. Lewis said, “The man who is contented to be only himself, and therefore less a self, is in prison. My own eyes are not enough for me, I will see through those of others.” He did, and so can we.
Spending time in Narnia, the world Lewis himself fashioned, changed my world vastly for the better. Spending time with Aslan there has taught me far more about Christ than I could have known had I simply stayed in this world.
And who could spend time in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth and not fall in love with Bilbo and Frodo and all the rest—and not be hungry to go back there often?
Life is too short, and so many worlds beckon through the magic of books.
It’s not Narnia or Middle Earth, but Nero Wolfe’s old New York brownstone townhouse is a pleasure to enter. His office on the first floor (which he never leaves on business) is a wonderful room. Gourmet chef Fritz Brenner’s kitchen and the dining room, also on the first floor, are paradise for culinary dreams. And on the top floor of the brownstone reside 10,000 orchid plants with enough exploding color to guarantee sensory overload.
Wolfe and Goodwin are certainly parallel in some ways to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson, but though Goodwin esteems his employer as the world’s greatest detective, he needles him unmercifully to provoke him into actually working rather than spending all of his time reading, eating, and nursing orchids.
So, through the magic of books, I’ve recently been back spending some leisure time at the old brownstone listening to Wolfe and Goodwin trade verbal jabs as they solve murders, annoy homicide inspector Cramer, give me a glimpse into New York decades ago, and do me the favor of cutting into the time I might spend doom-scrolling on the Internet, yammering incessantly on a cell phone, or being lobotomized by never turning off the TV.
It’s not that I’m feeling very guilty about this latest reading rut, you understand. But it is time now for me to branch out again, and I’ve hit the end of the series once more. Of course, I’ll be knocking on Wolfe’s door again, but for now…
Reading often happens to be a way to find fodder for this column, though that’s far from my primary goal. Usually, it’s not that a specific quotation or incident or insight jumps out from a book, runs around in circles chasing its tail, focuses its puppy dog eyes upward, pants and begs, “Write about me, will ya? Huh? Will ya? Will ya? Will ya, now? Okay?” No, what happens when we read is usually more subtle. Our eyes are just a bit more open to the things we already live with or walk past day in and day out, and just don’t really see.
By the way, it’s simply a fact that no one, believer or skeptic, can claim to be an educated person who doesn’t have some familiarity with the Bible; otherwise, his or her mind remains unable to connect the dots for a jillion biblical references to history, literature, and our world. Believers, specifically, may have read this or that verse or story or psalm or Gospel account many times before, but every time we read it, its Author opens our eyes to another truth about his Son and where life is found, about this world and how to live in it, and about the best story of all that never ends.
“My own eyes are not enough for me.” Not even close.
Copyright 2023 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.