Far From the Madding Book

I recently read Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd. My signature is on one of the inside pages, accompanied by a date: 1993. I was in my fourth year at school, and this was one of the set texts. My aim, then, was to read books as quickly and as efficiently as possible, while still scoring as high a grade as my parsimony allowed. Why read the whole book, when Yorke Notes were available from all good book shops? Why waste time poring over unnecessary description (something at which Hardy excels) when a brief skim of the first and last paragraphs on each page gave one the ‘flavour’ of the tale? Although my Maths was poor, I was in the top set for English, but apparently took little pleasure in reading for reading’s sake. It wasn’t that I did not enjoy reading, I just did not enjoy required, compulsory reading. Thirty years later, while fatter, greyer, and balding, I read this story for the sheer pleasure, and loved it.

I wonder if 'required reading' dissuaded a generation or two from enjoying the Bible. The Victorian and early- to mid- twentieth century schools’ earnest attempts to teach ‘Scripture’ or ‘Religious Instruction’ might have meant well and achieved some good, giving the former generations a better grounding in Christian knowledge than any contemporary ignoramus emerging from today’s sixth form college or school. Yet reading the scriptures for pleasure and personal edification might have been unlikely consequences of this teaching. God’s word is a wonderful mine, which rewards those who dig into it with all manner of gemstones and treasures. Learning it by rote and getting whacked with a cane for not knowing your Abimelech from your Abishag is not likely to endow a love of scripture which converts the soul.

See Bible reading as a pleasure and a privilege, not a chore to avoid or minimise.  

Teach me, O Lord, the way of Your statutes,
And I shall keep it to the end.
Give me understanding, and I shall keep Your law;
Indeed, I shall observe it with my whole heart.
Make me walk in the path of Your commandments,
For I delight in it.
Incline my heart to Your testimonies,
And not to covetousness.

Ps 119:33-36, NKJV