Does It Matter What I Read?
KING Solomon warned: “To the making of many books there is no end, and much devotion to them is wearisome to the flesh.” (Ecclesiastes 12:12) Solomon was not trying to discourage reading; he was just advising you to be selective.
Seventeenth-century French philosopher René Descartes said: “When one reads good books it is like having a conversation with men of breeding who lived in the past. We might even call it a selective conversation in which the author expresses only his most noble thoughts.” Not all writers, though, are worth ‘conversing’ with, nor are all their thoughts really “noble.”
So the oft-quoted Bible principle again comes into play: “Bad associations spoil useful habits.” (1 Corinthians 15:33) Yes, the people with whom you associate can mold your personality. Have you ever spent so much time with a friend that you found yourself beginning to act, talk, and even think like your friend? Well, reading a book is like spending hours conversing with the one who wrote it.
The principle Jesus stated at Matthew 24:15 is thus pertinent: “Let the reader use discernment.” Learn to analyze and weigh what you read. All humans are afflicted with a certain amount of bias and are not always totally honest in their portrayal of facts. Do not, therefore, accept unquestioningly everything you read or hear: “Anyone inexperienced puts faith in every word, but the shrewd one considers his steps.”—Proverbs 14:15.
You should be particularly cautious about reading anything that expounds a philosophy of life. Teen magazines, for example, are full of advice on everything from dating to premarital sex—not always advice a Christian should use, however. And what about books that plunge into weighty philosophical questionings?
The Bible warns: “Look out: perhaps there may be someone who will carry you off as his prey through the philosophy and empty deception according to the tradition of men . . . and not according to Christ.” (Colossians 2:8) The Bible, and Bible-based publications such as this, offer far better advice.—2 Timothy 3:16.
Romance Novels—Harmless Reading?
Reading romance novels has become an addictive habit for some 20 million people in the United States alone. Of course God himself placed in man and woman the desire to fall in love and marry. (Genesis 1:27, 28; 2:23, 24) It is no surprise, then, that romance is featured prominently in most fiction, and this is not necessarily objectionable. Some romance novels have even attained the status of fine literature. But since these older novels are considered tame by modern standards, writers have found it profitable of late to churn out a new breed of romance novels. Some still utilize historical or medieval settings to add drama and mood to the story. Others are contemporary in style and setting. Nevertheless, with a few minor variations, these modern romance novels follow a fairly predictable formula: heroes and heroines hurdling formidable obstacles that threaten their budding romance.
Typically, the hero is a strong, even arrogant, man who oozes self-confidence. The heroine, however, is likely to be delicate and vulnerable, often the hero’s junior by 10 or 15 years. And though he often treats her contemptuously, she is still irresistibly attracted to him.
Often there is a rival suitor. Although he is kind and considerate, he fails to excite or interest the heroine. So she uses her beguiling charms to mold her stoic hero into a tender soul who now openly declares his abiding love. All previous misgivings cleared and forgiven, they blissfully marry and live happily ever after . . .
Is Love Like the Love Stories?
Could reading such fanciful stories cloud your vision of reality? Bonnie, who started reading romance novels at age 16, recalls: “I looked for the young man that was tall, dark and handsome; one that was exciting, with a domineering personality.” She confessed: “If I dated a young man and he didn’t want to kiss and touch, he was dull, even though he was considerate and kind. I wanted the excitement I’d read about in the novels.”
Bonnie continued to read romances after her marriage and says: “I had a nice home and family, but somehow it wasn’t enough . . . I wanted the adventure, excitement and thrills so enticingly described in the novels. I felt something was wrong with my marriage.” The Bible, though, helped Bonnie to appreciate that a husband must offer his wife more than charm or “excitement.” It says: “Husbands ought to be loving their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself, for no man ever hated his own flesh; but he feeds and cherishes it.”—Ephesians 5:28, 29.
And what about the themes so common to romance novels, the Utopian endings and the easy resolution of differences? Well, they are far from realistic. Bonnie recalls: “When I had a disagreement with my husband, instead of talking it out with him, I’d copy the gimmicks used by the heroine. When my husband didn’t respond the way the hero did, I sulked.” Is not the Bible’s counsel for wives far more realistic and practical when it says, “You wives, be in subjection to your husbands”?—Colossians 3:18.
Interestingly, sexually explicit romances—available in public libraries in some cities—are the ones most requested by teens. Can they harm you? Explains 18-year-old Karen: “The books really stirred strong sexual feelings and curiosity in me. The ecstasy and euphoric feelings felt by the heroine in passionate encounters with the hero caused me to desire those feelings too. So when I was dating,” she continues, “I tried to recreate those sensations. It led me to commit fornication.” But was her experience like those of the heroines she had read and fantasized about? Karen discovered: “These feelings are conjured up in the minds of the writers. They aren’t real.”
Creating sexual fantasies is indeed the intent of some authors. Consider the instructions one publisher gives to romance-novel authors: “Sexual encounters should concentrate on passion and the erotic sensations aroused by the hero’s kisses and caresses.” The writers are further advised that love stories “should evoke excitement, tension and a deep emotional and sensual response in the reader.” Obviously, reading such material would not help one to follow the Bible’s admonition to “deaden, therefore, your body members that are upon the earth as respects fornication, uncleanness, sexual appetite, hurtful desire.”—Colossians 3:5.
It is best, then, to avoid novels that arouse immoral feelings or that engender unrealistic expectations. Why not branch out and try reading other types of books, such as history or science books? Not that fiction is off limits, for there are some fictional works that are not only entertaining but also educational. But if a novel features sex, senseless violence, occult practices, or “heroes” who are promiscuous, ruthless, or greedy, should you waste your time reading it?
So exercise care. Before reading a book, examine its cover and book jacket; see if there is anything objectionable about the book. And if in spite of precautions a book turns out to be unwholesome, have the strength of character to put the book down.
By way of contrast, reading the Bible and Bible-related publications will help, not harm, you. One Japanese girl, for example, says that reading the Bible helped her keep her mind off sex—often a problem for youths. “I always put the Bible near my bed and make a point of reading it before going to sleep,” she says. “It is when I am alone and have nothing to do (such as at bedtime) that my mind sometimes turns toward sex. So reading the Bible really helps me!” Yes, “conversing” with the people of faith written about in the Bible can give you real moral fiber and greatly add to your happiness.—Romans 15:4.
Questions for Discussion
◻ Why must you be selective in what you read?
◻ Why are romance novels so appealing to many youths? But what are their dangers?
◻ How can you choose appropriate reading material?
◻ What are some of the benefits of reading the Bible and Bible-based publications?
[Blurb on page 287]
“I had a nice home and family, but somehow it wasn’t enough . . . I wanted the adventure, excitement and thrills so enticingly described in the novels. I felt something was wrong with my marriage”
[Picture on page 283]
With so many thousands of books available, you must be selective
[Pictures on page 285]
Romance novels may make absorbing reading, but do they teach a wholesome view of love and marriage?