And So I Began to Read…
Books that have influenced me
by Faith Cook
Available from Ten Of Those
What are you reading at the moment? Do you remember the title? Can you name the author? Occasionally, we speak about a book we are reading without being able to recall even these basic details. Why is this? Perhaps we read mostly for recreation while our minds ponder life’s banalities. We all know what it is to read a whole page without having processed a single word. Let’s be honest. When we read like this, we know we are wasting our time.
Faith Cook is not one to waste her reading time. Books have been a source of comfort, rebuke and delight to her since her childhood in China where reading matter was scarce and choice limited. A missionary childhood taught her to prize books highly. In her recently published book, And So I Began to Read, she shares with us some of the treasures that have most influenced her over the years and in so doing encourages the reader to reflect on his or her own reading experience and to pick up or dust off some forgotten titles.
One of the most interesting features of this short, readable and personal book (she is more commonly known for her work as a Christian biographer) is her account of her own spiritual relationship with reading. In 1951, Christian missionaries were decisively thrown out of China following the Communist takeover of the country and Cook’s family moved to Malaysia sending their daughter to a boarding school in North Wales. During these formative years of Christian growth she imbibed a legalism which forbade certain pastimes and stressed rules ‘to such an extent that even the reading of a daily newspaper troubled [her] conscience.’ Shunning Dickens and novels altogether Cook describes how she learnt self-righteously to frown upon secular reading. It is unsurprising, therefore, that all the works mentioned in this book are written by Christians and only one of the influential texts is a novel.
Starting in 1957 with her discovery of the work of Jonathan Edwards, Cook begins to walk and talk us through her library.
On the topics of suffering and prayer Cook is nourished and comforted by Baxter, Bonar, Boston, Brooks, Bunyan, Spurgeon and Gurnall. With a heart for those who may not want to tackle the dense wording of such writers, she helpfully suggests contemporary authors whose writing on similar themes may be more accessible to the modern reader.
Poetry, hymns and letters are also amongst the literature that sustained her over the years, Newton, Cowper and Samuel Rutherford being particular favourites. These ‘turned my thoughts away from my own troubles to the griefs and pain that the Saviour suffered for his people, putting my own in perspective.’ Through reading, Cook was self-medicating in her own suffering with the balm of others’ sanctified wisdom. Books were to her ‘an unfailing source of strength and consolation’. They accompany her like a reassuring and kindly guide as she journeys through the painful years of her husband’s reduced mental health and another move from Shepshed to Hull.
Reading presents the temptation of escapism but Cook assumes a responsible and structured approach to her reading time, aided by her husband’s rich supply of Puritan titles, in particular, Richard Baxter’s ‘The Saint’s Everlasting Rest’ which, ‘chimed with her own thinking at this time’. As the Lord kindly provides reading matter for His pupil, she in turn diligently copies out long passages into a notebook, often memorising them by heart, embracing rather than running from the ‘quaint’ and ‘inaccessible’ language. Her reading stirs a yearning for heaven and fires her desire to serve her Master in the ante chamber that is this life. I wonder, does my reading do the same?
Cook describes movingly how the Lord often ministered to her ‘by means of a book’, especially in times of backsliding or luke warmth reminding us how tenderly ‘the great Shepherd of the sheep is well able to seek out any of his flock that are wandering in a wilderness.’
The final section of the book describes how the author began to write. Longing to share discovered gems with friends, she set about translating Samuel Rutherford’s seemingly impenetrable prose into more accessible rhyme, an endeavour which was enthusiastically received by the Banner of Truth Trust and launched her writing career.
Jesus tells us that we reap what we sow. Faith Cook extends that principle to the world of reading inviting us to choose our next book wisely, with our gaze on eternity, aware that the time is short. She teaches us, as Bunyan taught her, to see life as ‘a pilgrimage from this world of sin and suffering to the Celestial City.’ I am left asking myself whether my reading choices encourage or detract from this view.