I Read Dead People

By Carolyn Weber —  January 27, 2012

“We read to know we are not alone,” C. S. Lewis declared, and how right he was. When I read, to quote the Eric Liddell character in Chariots of Fire: “I feel God’s pleasure.”

As you may have recognized, the title for my series is an adaptation of that famous line from the movie Sixth Sense, where the young boy, Cole Sear (great pun on the last name) admits “I see dead people.” I thought the title an apt conjuring, because of how I read dead people, essentially, for a living, and, more essentially, for pleasure (although fortunately, the two blend for me). So I also live amidst the ever-present history of ideas, as every discerning reader does.

Trinity Library, I Read Dead People

Trinity College Library, Cambridge

We have all enjoyed a good story, or simply had a single line hit home and move us in some profound way. These words from other voices, most long gone on this earth, shape us and continue to live in us, through us, long into the future. Reading can lead us into new ways of truly seeing.

Have you also had the uncanny experience of reading something exactly when you needed to read it? Either some phrase or scene or character or line of poetry that has spoken personally and directly to you, at that specific time in your life?

The effect is like you’ve been spoken at, directly, through the ages, through the pages – as though your heart has been read, your mind laid bare, to a complete stranger.  Someone else has already felt the same way you do, had the same questions, endured the same sufferings, celebrated the same joys.

Reading as an act in and of itself, separate from even the content, has always fascinated me. It is at once highly private and highly social. You are alone, turning the page (or tapping it, perhaps, as is increasingly likely), isolated in your concentration and immersed in your own imagination. And yet you are in conversation with others, not just the author him or himself, but with projected characters, and /or countless ideas of other minds that thread throughout the ages, coming to rest in a few marks on the page in front of you. You enter another world completely, and yet it is an inner world that challenges and reshapes the “you” as you are reading it.

No wonder God came as Word and as Flesh and moves among us as Spirit. I see these three forces at work, I feel this trinity of presence at play, in the reading process itself, in the act of discovering more about who I am as I move out of myself into story.

In this upcoming series, I would like to examine a handful of examples from literary greats, and consider how they challenge and inform our faith walk. The list need not be limited to Christian writers, or overtly Christian topics. I have found that to be irrelevant in the long run, as everything I have ever read, and continue to read, regardless of cultural or spiritual context or background, still speaks to me in some way of the human condition, our need for redemption, and most powerfully, the glory of God.

I have a few of my own authors in mind to start, but if you have an author in particular that you’d like for me to consider in the series, I’d welcome any suggestions.

Editorial Note on the Series:  Thanks for bearing with me as I fight out from under the constant “morning” sickness and return to the screen. I will try, in good faith, to post the rest of this series on Tuesdays and Fridays. Thanks for joining us!  For brevity’s sake, my focus on each author necessitates a painfully small taste of his or her grandeur. My aim is to examine one thought nugget, and unpack it in discussion with my readers. Some of these ideas are part of my percolation process for an upcoming book, so I will keep you posted!  In the meantime, I do hope the series brings you a remembered joy of past authors, a welcome taste of new ones, and deep renewal in your life in the word.

OTHER POSTS IN THE SERIES
#2 The Bible: the Most Creative Piece of Creative Non-Fiction I Have Ever Read

#3 John Milton: How Sin Kills You Before You Die 

#4 William Blake: How to Grow a Poison Tree

#5 Apuleius’s Cupid and Psyche: Why Love is Blind before it Can See

#6 C.S. Lewis and the Journey of the Soul

#7 Jane Austen’s Power of “Persuasion”: The Grace of a Love Letter

#8 Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Our Struggle with God (Part I)

Thanks for reading “I Read Dead People”

CarolynWeber

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24 responses to I Read Dead People

  1. Annemarie Freyburger January 27, 2012 at 4:06 am

    Dear Carolyn,
    a friend gave me your book for Christmas – I love it. I have spoken about it in church and I have passed it on to another member to read.
    I have always loved reading and I have read almost anything ever published by C.S. Lewis.
    Your journey has been told in a ‘real’ sense and the reader can feel with you and sense with you and experience all the highs and lows and the doubts and questions – you are an excellent story teller but as I have read just today : A story does not come to life because it is told, but because it is listened to and only when it is realy ‘heard’. I will make sure I hear your story and that is why I will reread and reread passages in your book and also all your articles in here too. Thank you for using your gift so well and as is obvious : submitted to God and for His glory ! and I agree : everything else is bull-shit.
    Many thanks and lots of love, Annemarie

    • You are terrific, Annemarie. Thanks so much for making my day! I like your distinction about true listening – like the spiritual practice of being attentive. It is helpful, BTW, to remember that the apostle Paul actually uses that very word – BS or literally “dung” – in relation to what the world offers and his list of empty accomplishments that are not in Christ (Phil.3:8). Thanks again for writing, and “really” reading! :)

  2. YaY! A free literature class that allows me to participate from my own home :D

  3. Carolyn,

    this looks like a great series! I’ll be reading. I’d definitely be interested in post dealing with anything by Dostoyevsky or Tolstoy!

    Jude

    • Thanks, Jude. Great suggestions. It wouldn’t be a real series without them! How could we ever omit the Grand Inquisitor?!?

  4. Ever since I finished your wonderful book I’ve been following your blog and am looking forward to this next series. As an older (72) woman I’ve experienced over and over the wonder of having something (almost anything) I read speak to my heart–if I’m listening for it. Keep writing. You are gifted…

    • Thank you Myrna, so very, very much. The encouragement comes particularly timely (if we are going to have timely encouragement as a theme in reading! :) as I juggle little ones amidst the writing with this new one on the way. God bless you. I’m looking forward to your wise input!

  5. Sent an email earlier…forgot there was a reply section here. Sorry!

    Great post by the way and I will be reading this series. I get your posts by email automatically- woot!

  6. I can’t remember the last time I was so excited about a series! Yay! You are speaking my language here, luv. Can’t wait to read the rest of it!

    • hey Sarah! Just read your amazing blog post today – gift of the magi! :) Thanks for joining in. Love and Books. Doesn’t get much better than that combo in Christ, eh?

  7. Hi, I’ve popped over from Emerging Mummy’s blog. Am very interested in your new series and can’t wait to see how everything shapes up. I love to read all types of books!

    • Thanks, Betsy! I’m a huge fan of Emerging Mummy’s blog. It’s good to have you with us!

  8. Oooohhhh…can’t wait! Discussing literature is the one thing I have so greatly missed since leaving Academia 11 (gulp) years ago. We in Idaho will definitely be staying tuned for the next installment! :)

    • I know – fun memories, eh? So glad to have Idaho and Ontario connected through great lit!

  9. Well…,I might suggest Shakespeare, but maybe he deserves his own series. “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

    I’m looking forward to your choices, Carolyn. I know I’ll be “Surprised.”

    • Thanks, Allan! Talk about connection already – I had that very quotation from Hamlet in mind, actually. It’s always haunted me! You’re right – Shakespeare deserves at least a year :) But I think we should at least dip into him!

      • “Haunted” makes me think of Flannery O’Conner. I’d like to put her name in (if nominations are still open).

  10. Dear Carolyn; I too love having a few dead people reading into my life. I am always going back to aKempis. I just re-read “Spiritual Exercises” by Ignatius. The Desert Fathers and Mothers provide a unique twist on living off the grid. And how about Samuel Johnson’s prayers? I look forward to what you bring forward.

    • What a great suggestion with Johnson! Thanks, Don. I read “Spiritual Exercises” when I first set out to teach at a Jesuit university many years ago, and found them so incredibly beautiful – wish they were circulated more widely even as general reading.

  11. Happy Sunday to you, Caro! As I read your post, it brought to mind what Stephen King wrote in On Writing: a memoir of the craft. “Writing is mental telepathy.” Think about it… through the written word we can get into each other’s heads and communicate across space AND time! Given that your series will include getting into the heads of dead people, perhaps the King of the macabre would be worth including in the discussion.

    I look forward to the series!

    • You, too, Richard! That’s a terrific quotation from King. I often think about how L’Engle said a book chose her, she had no control, but just had to try her best to write it. Inspiration itself is a fascinating concept.

  12. Hi Carolyn,

    I’m so excited to have returned to your site to find this wonderful series! I’m already telling my FB friends about it. I experience what you talk about here most often when I read George Herbert. His poems move me to tears as he reminds me of the loving and wise heart of our God. Then I am amazed and inspired all over again by the thought that I am being encouraged by a fellow believer whose voice is reaching out to me across centuries! Mind-blowing!
    Looking forward to reading your thoughts on the authors who speak to you.