This chapter comes directly from the writings of Ellen White. Even though Shryock never quotes her directly, he doesn’t have to. His target audience would already know.
The author spends a paragraph talking about imagination and how important it is in art. However, he says, imagination also plays an important part in writing. Clearly he doesn’t consider writing an art.
But some writers go to such extremes in the use of their imagination that their writings consist virtually of setting down the daydreams that they have had.
I have no idea what the author means by “such extremes in the use of their imagination.” I’m guessing he means fiction novels in general? Ellen White didn’t entirely oppose fiction, mind you. Just certain types.
In a sense a fiction writer is simply a daydreamer who has developed the knack of writing out his daydreams in an interesting style so as to hold the attention of the reader.
First off, there is a large difference between a daydream (I am filthy stinking rich and live in a palace with servants to wait on me hand and foot) and a story (I am filthy stinking rich, have servants to wait on me hand and foot, but a stepmother who makes my life miserable and there’s also this prince…). Stories are way more interesting to read. I would not be interested in somebody’s daydreams unless that person was especially close to me, and even then, I would probably find them terribly dull.
The author goes on to write that it doesn’t matter if the daydream is first or second hand. He refers to reading novels as “second hand daydreaming,” and tells us that the effect on the reader/daydreamer is exactly the same. You see, reading fiction is bad because it draws the person away from the real world and into a world of make believe.
This is the principal reason why the reading of fiction is not desirable.
I went to Hogwarts in my imagination. Clearly that is undesirable because Hogwarts isn’t real.
The person who reads fiction tends to identify himself with one of the characters in the story. The reader says to himself, perhaps subconsciously, “this might have happened to me.” This is the feature that holds his interest. But when the story is a product of the author’s imagination, and does not represent real living, it does the reader little good to identify himself with one of the characters.
Yes, Harry Potter is a figment of JK Rowling’s imagination. Life at Hogwarts isn’t exactly like real life. However, that doesn’t mean that it did me little good to identify with one of the characters. When someone puts themselves in Harry’s shoes, for example, they feel how hurt Harry is when Draco calls his best friend Hermione mudlbood, a Wizarding version of a racial slur. Seeing things from Harry and Hermione’s point of view may cause the person reading to become more compassionate and less likely to use racial (or other) slurs.
Shryock would probably tell me that I could also learn that from reading non fiction, and he’s not wrong. All of this is beside the point. The point is that it is not pointless to read fiction because fiction novels can teach people things, whether they realize they are learning or not. It actually enriches a person to imagine themselves in someone else’s shoes, and if Harry Potter is the only way to reach some of these people, then I am more than ok with that.
Shryock then goes on to tell a story about a missionary’s wife. This woman, who’s name he doesn’t give, loves reading so much that reading was clearly her greatest joy in life.
I am not seeing anything wrong with this story, but whatever.
Apparently the members of the mission board were not well acquainted with this young woman, or they would have hesitated to send her as a missionary. She was not much concerned over the problems of living in a foreign country. Nor did she realize the responsibility that properly falls on the wife of a missionary.
It appears to me that the wife isn’t really interested in mission work, the husband is. And the husband couldn’t go overseas without his wife, because…..?
Perhaps this woman did realize the responsibilities of a missionary wife, and that this is the reason she didn’t want to go. Books were, perhaps, her coping mechanism.
Shryock’s going to ignore all that. He tells us that Mrs. Missionary-Wife preferred to live in a pretend world, and that this world was more important than helping the natives of Africa.
Really, if the missionaries who went to Africa had stayed at home in America and read books all day, the Africans would arguably have been better off.
One would suppose that in preparing to go as a missionary this young woman would have given attention to the means by which she could be of help to the native people….instead, she busied herself in choosing and obtaining a large selection of books containing imaginative stories. It was her hope to take with her a sufficient number of these books to last throughout their first period of mission service. Actually books filled the larger portion of the trunk.
Still not seeing a problem here. If my husband was moving me to a corner of the globe where books weren’t available, you bet your sweet patootie I’m going to pack a ton of them.
In any case, when they arrived, the husband took up mission work, the wife just read. Unfortunately she ran out of books, and eventually she and her husband had to go back to America so she could read more.
This story disgusts the author. He thinks Mrs. Missionary-wife should have been interested in helping the natives, and she could have been a blessing to humanity but wasn’t. All because she loved to read.
I am disgusted by this story because most missionaries to Africa aren’t exactly helpful, and clearly this woman did not want to be a missionary, but was dragged into it by her husband.
Another important consideration in this matter of reading imaginative literature is the time it wastes.
Wastes? Wastes? No time is wasted when one is reading. I didn’t know it when I was younger, but when I was reading, I was also learning. Even when I was reading fiction novels.
Such reading consumes time that might be be used to better advantage in some profitable pursuit–either in study, in employment, or in those types of recreation that involve the use of the muscles and thus tend to improve the health.
I can’t always be studying. I can’t always be working, and I really have zero desire to do any kind of sport. I’m not saying these things are bad and that you shouldn’t do them, I’m saying that there must be a balance.
Really, the only excuse for reading imaginative literature is as a means of entertainment.
Set aside, for the moment, the fact that reading novels for entertainment is not a bad thing. I learned a lot from reading works of fiction. I learned a little bit about science and history, but mostly I learned to empathize. Perhaps that girl in the corner who never talks to me isn’t stuck up. Perhaps she is just shy and scared. Maybe I should be a little nicer to her.
Reading fiction also helped me open my mind. What is it like to be a Jew in a world where Nazis are in power? What can this tell me about how I should treat people? What is it like to live in China? If I had been born there, what would I be like? Reading allowed me to open my mind and really put myself in someone else’s shoes. I can’t say I’m the best at it, but I like to think I’ve learned at least a little bit.
I also learned to write. From reading, I learned what things do and don’t work in writing. Shryock would probably think this is a bad thing, but meh.
So, yes, many people do read novels as a form of entertainment. There’s nothing wrong with that. However, many people are also learning as they read.
But when an entertainment becomes so fascinating that it interferes with the more important things of life, it is not an advantage but a serious detriment.
Well, yes. Taken to extremes, anything becomes a detriment. Even religion.
Life at best is short.
Yes, I know. I have no idea how I’m going to accomplish my goal of reading every single book in the world.
The author goes on to say that our lives seem endless when we are teenagers because most of our lives are still ahead of us. When we get older, however, we can not get that time back. Once wasted, it is gone.
I know. I am forever bemoaning the fact that I spent way too much time trying not to read fiction novels. I wish, actually, that I had read more books.
The happiness of your future depends, really, on the service you are prepared to render to other people.
This is a lie I was told all my life. Serving others is not a bad thing, but again, there must be balance. You must also learn to serve yourself.
The ability to serve others depends on the training you get when you are young. These years are the most valuable years of your life, and you absolutely should not waste them. You must use them to prepare for later life.
If you fail to prepare properly for the future, the loss can never be recovered.
Paragraphs like this really scare me. What if it’s true? What if, having lost myself to Adventism, I never actually get to be myself? My parents didn’t police my reading, but they exposed me to authority figures who thought that I should, and so I believed that I should stop reading fiction and stop writing. In doing so, I stunted my own growth. As an adult, I have come to the realization that I am, in all probability, a shitty writer.
Now, I lie awake at night, scared that, among other things, I will never be able to be a good writer. That mediocre is the best I can possibly get. I wish to god I could have those years back. I wish to god I had written more stories, read more novels, and not taken the Adventist bullshit so seriously.
I wasted half my life. Please, for the love of all things holy, don’t you go and waste yours.
It is better to face life as it is and learn to take advantage of your opportunities for improvement than to spend long periods of time simply in the attempt to obtain entertainment that offers no enrichment to the life.
But reading does enrich my life. That’s what art does. It’s kind of why human beings have been telling each other stories for centuries. Not only to entertain ourselves, but to enrich our lives. I can definitely say that my life is much better because of the books I have read.
The reading of imaginative books or magazine articles is usually done in solitude. At least, the person who is engrossed in such reading is unaware of what goes on around him.
One could say the same thing about a lot of activities. Studying, for example, would still have the same affect.
In any case, the author’s argument is that when you are sitting alone reading books, you aren’t developing social skills, so therefore it is wrong to spend hours and hours of time alone reading.
Like I said, there must be balance. If you’re not getting social time because of books, yes, it may be a good idea to cut back on the books.
However, perhaps books are not the problem. Perhaps such an individual simply doesn’t have friends, and does not live in a place where they could easily make friends. I was bullied and teased a lot as a child. Books were my only refuge. It would not have done me any good for someone to take away my books and make me spend more time with those horrid bullies who didn’t like me anyway.
The author doesn’t care about that. You will recall that just a few chapters ago he insisted that anyone could make friends if they just tried hard enough. The issue of having/not having friends doesn’t even come up in this chapter. The author only laments that a teenager can’t be reading and developing social skills at the same time.
Actually, a lot of my social skills do come from books, Shryock. How do you think I learned? Certainly not from those bullies.
Next, the author talks about the effect of fiction on the brain. Ellen White basically talks about how reading uses up a lot of brain energy. Reading fiction makes us feel very excited, and because of this, the brain gets overworked and….somehow this makes us sick, or at least, “mentally inebriated.”
The practice of story reading is one of the means employed by Satan to destroy souls. It produces a false, unhealthy excitement, fevers the imagination, unfits the mind for usefulness, and disqualifies it for any spiritual exercise. It weans the soul from prayer and from the love of spiritual things. AH p.411
I encourage you to go and read the full context. I may not have the exact page number correct, but it will be close. (For some strange reason the website is acting up and not telling me page numbers.)
So Shryock goes on for a few paragraphs about the mental energy wasted from reading, and how it takes away mental energy that could be used for studying or work. I feel like I’m going to turn into a broken record if I keep saying, “I can’t always be studying or working,” so let’s move on. Let’s take another approach to counter this argument.
Who gets to decide what tasks waste mental energy? I think studying algebra is a huge waste of time (I have used algebra a grand total of zero times in my life outside of math class.), but the author would disagree with me. I kind of think “waste of time” is a pretty relative concept in and of itself.
Furthermore, in the reading of imaginative literature the factors of interest and suspense carry the reader on from sentence to sentence without requiring him to concentrate. There is no self discipline in pursuing such a story.
I dunno, I mean… I have a very hard time putting a good book down in time for work…
The only need for self discipline is to discontinue the reading when bedtime comes or when it becomes necessary to meet some appointment.
See? Self discipline.
I know of one high school teacher who tells his students that they cannot expect to get good grades in such subjects as physics, chemistry, or mathematics if they read fictitious literature.
Is this high school teacher an Adventist who read Ellen White? Is this a teacher at a public school or an SDA school?
Regardless, if I had to choose between reading and being good at math…
But that’s false. It’s not an either or type thing. There’s no reason I can’t excel in physics, chemistry, math, and read good books. I don’t happen to know of anybody good at math who also reads a fuckton of books, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist, I’m sure they’re out there.
You guys are out there, right?
In any case, the high school teacher says this because
The teenager who has formed the habit of reading imaginative literature has lost his ability to concentrate in reading except for when the excitement of a story carries him automatically from sentence to sentence.
It can’t possibly be because the textbooks are written in such a way as to be dry and boring. No, it must be a problem with the students.
The author then goes on to differentiate between good types of reading and bad types. He says that confusion has arisen because people don’t know the difference.
Basically, any type of writing based on the imagination is a bad idea. Even Ellen White didn’t go that far. She was a huge fan, for example, of Pilgrim’s Progress. At least, I think I remember reading that somewhere…
Unless a distinction is made between good books and harmful books, a person may become confused.
Again, who gets to decide this? I have decided that this book is incredibly harmful and that nobody should ever read it. Obviously there exist people who disagree with that statement, or this book would not have been republished with a different cover for a 21st century audience.*
There is a website called Awful Library Books, wherein people post what they believe are bad books. And some of these books aren’t actually bad–for the time period in which they were written. But alas, a book titled My Brother Is Retarded is no longer a book we would want children to read, and so into the discard pile it goes. Harmful vs not harmful is kinda relative. When we know better, we do better. And Adventists, you can absolutely do better than this book.
The present chapter has been intended to warn you against the undesirable type of reading matter. if space permitted, another chapter might well be included to emphasize the many advantages of books and stories that are uplifting, informative, and factual.
Wait, you wanted to include three chapters on reading? Did your publisher cut you off or something? And what do you mean “Stories that are uplifting?” you just spent 2 entire chapters telling us stories are not good reading. What gives?
In any case, even though I kinda sorta believed the things that are written in this chapter, this is the root cause of my dislike for non fiction. Non fiction was what they wanted me to read. It took me many years to get used to the idea that non fiction was also something I should read.
Such reading is to be highly recommended and is well worth the time and effort spent in its pursuit.
I don’t disagree that reading non fiction is a good thing. I feel like the author will take one true statement I don’t disagree with, and then attach to it a bunch of bullshit, as if statement A proves paragraphs B and C. Reading non fiction is good, therefore reading fiction is bad and I will go on about it for like 20 pages.
In any case, we are now finally done talking about fantasies and reading and can move on to the next chapter’s problem: our attitudes.
*Actually, the fact that they did republish it (formatted it for kindle and everything) and gave it a new copyright date of 2013 does raise some interesting questions. Did they actually read this book before they re-published it? Or did they think to themselves, “oh, this book was so helpful for me as a teenager 90 years ago, it’s definitely relevant for kids today. It’s even written by a doctor. We’ll just slap a new cover on and format it for kindle. It’s brilliant; we can make money without even having to go to the trouble of writing a whole new book! Now let’s take the money we would have spent doing that and go out to lunch.”
No really, I want to know the answer to this question.