NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – During the open mike session of Bethel College’s May 5 convocation, Brad Born, interim vice president for academic affairs, noted, “We don’t read books alone—we read them as members of reading communities.”
His comment was directed toward an assembly of one such “reading community,” gathered in Krehbiel Auditorium to reflect on how books have impacted their lives. The convocation, a repeat of a successful similar program from last year, was “designed to celebrate the book, and the way that books have made a difference in each of our lives,” said Dale Schrag, chair of the convocation committee.
Six students, staff and faculty members gave prepared reflections on their own significant reading experiences. Afterward, the floor was open for anyone else who wanted to share.
Dan Graber, sophomore from Marion, S.D., opened with comments on Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, which he uses as a “secular devotional.”
Matt Kaiser, senior from Inman, followed with a reflection on Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World, by Tracy Kidder. Paul Farmer was an innovative medical practitioner who developed a tuberculosis treatment program that focused on “care for the individual rather than the community,” Kaiser said. Farmer’s story is about “idealism standing up to cynical realism and succeeding,” he added.
Bridget Kratzer, junior from North Newton, talked about Mirror to America: The Autobiography of John Hope Franklin. Franklin “reshaped the way African-American history is taught,” said Kratzer. “His story makes my own obstacles seem less significant. It makes us appreciate where we are.”
Tricia Lopez, administrative assistant in social work and teacher education, discussed Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah, by Richard Bach. A co-worker gave her her first copy of the book in the break room of a Macy’s department store when Lopez was at a “fork in the road” in her life, she said, and the book provided her with direction.
Meghan Reha, junior from Tiskilwa, Ill., shared about an illustrated young adult novel she first read in ninth grade, The Little Prince by Antoine de St.-Exupéry.
Reha noted that probably the best-known quote from the book is the Fox’s comment: “It’s only with the heart that one can see clearly. What is essential is invisible to the eye.” She “never did get that,” she said, but over the years of trying to figure it out, she discovered many other things within the book, most especially what it reveals about friendship.
To conclude the prepared presentations, Lisa Janzen Scott, assistant professor of education and mathematics, discussed the personal impact of reading George Pólya’s How to Solve It, a book about mathematical problem-solving methods. “The book has helped me through teaching, and living in general,” Janzen Scott said.
The open-mike session elicited comments on books ranging from biography to children’s literature to theological writing.
Chelsea Hahn, junior from Newton, said, “I’m not a reader. I don’t think I’d ever read an entire book from start to finish until Brad Born’s [College Issues Colloquy] class.
“But one day at a friend’s house, I found the biography of Mother Teresa’s life,” Hahn continued, “and I just loved it. She lived a life that I would love to live.”
The stories people shared testified to the power of books to affect individuals in a number of different ways—giving comfort and direction in times of uncertainty, influencing the course of years of academic study, making an impact when one least expects it.