Book Review: Reading for the Common Good

Reading for the Common Good: How Books Help Our Churches and Neighborhoods FlourishReading for the Common Good: How Books Help Our Churches and Neighborhoods Flourish by C. Christopher Smith

Reading for the Common Good, as the subtitle suggests, is written in part for Christian churches. There is considerable focus on the reading of the Bible and on practices for disciplined reading of the Bible such as Lectio Divina. There is broader application to reading of just about any other form of literature, including fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. Application is also made to reading in other types of community organizations beside churches.

Reading for the Common Good is about more than just what the members of a congregation or community organization are reading themselves individually. Reading in communion and discovering a community’s identity and calling through that reading are central to its thesis. Reading for the Common Good is also about how members of a congregation or community advocate for and facilitate literacy and reading in the neighborhoods where they serve by offering literacy instruction, and even housing lending libraries and book shops.

Reading for the Common Good sets lofty goals for those who choose to make reading a core practice within their community. Reading communally can help us bridge social barriers such as those erected by racism. It can help us address social ills, injustice, and ecological ills. It can even help us build integrity into our political systems and democratic processes. One imagines that if every pastor, politician, and community leader in the United States would encourage their constituents to read together, the problems that beset those communities could be dealt with in the space of a generation. That is the kind of hope that Reading for the Common Good seeks to cultivate.

One doesn’t need to take Christopher Smith’s word for these promises. Every chapter includes multiple quotes from such diverse voices as Allen Ginsberg, Wendell Berry, Neil Gaiman (whose “Why Our Futures Depend on Libraries, Reading and Daydreaming” is worth a side trip), Peter Senge, Parker Palmer, Thomas Merton, Stephen Fowl and Gregory Jones, Virginia Milhouse, and Walter Brueggemann. Are there more women’s voices that could be heard in making these arguments? Without a doubt. Still, the endnotes point to fine additional reading in subject areas that Smith touches.

Finally, Smith includes two separate reading lists. One is a chapter-by-chapter list specific to the book. The second is a topical list developed by and for Smith’s congregation, Englewood Christian Church of Indianapolis, Indiana. If the reader borrows this book from a public library, photocopy or scan these pages and the endnotes before returning the book!

Thanks as always for stopping by!

Pat

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