Our Reading Lives

I Am A Book Evangelist

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I’m constantly trying to make readers out of non-readers. I’m the Mormon knocking at your door. Hello. Can I just leave this book with you?

I come by this book evangelism honestly as I grew up in a youth group at a hiiiiiighly evangelical Southern Baptist church. When my youth minister said of one of my friends, “That boy would witness to a lamp post if he thought it had a soul,” I couldn’t help but feel jealous. I likely wouldn’t evangelize to a lamp post. I wanted to be that sure of myself, that outgoing, but alas, I was bookish and quiet even then. I took a quiz to figure out that my spiritual gift was service, not out-on-the-streets evangelism. I was sent to work in the church nursery.

And even though my evangelical days are long behind me, there is a remnant of that old training still in me. That desire to convert others, to bring them down to the river. But this time, to read.

At the start of every school year, I buy my school-aged nieces and nephews a back-to-school book. I sort of follow the idea that if you build it, they will come. If they have new books, they will read them. My nephew’s into Ninja Turtles? Here’s a Ninja Turtles picture book. My niece is starting first grade? There’s a book for that. I’m like the youth minister playing Christian rock – they come for the jams, they leave with the message. Or, in this case, the love of reading.

But as I pondered this whole thing, after my niece and nephews’ books were in the mail, I wondered: Why do I do this? And to what end? Is it okay? Does it make me pushy? Some level of self-reflection seemed warranted.

Even though I wanted the validation and praise that came with being an evangelical teenager, I felt icky about pushing my beliefs on other people. Am I doing the same thing now, but with books?

Though my spiritual gift wasn’t evangelizing, proper, I did learn that your testimony is key to sharing your message. And it applies here, too, in my book evangelism:  I had a turning point, a moment when reading because the absolute best thing in my life. After summers of playing cul-de-sac baseball and running through woods and trying to climb trees that were never meant to be climbed, I discovered reading. And as a little girl, I would lie in my bed, with a package of Dunkaroos or Handi-Snacks, and I would read, leaving chocolatey thumb prints on the pages. And when friends asked me to come out and play, I would say no, because I was reading. And my life filled up with stories and characters – Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield, and all the members of the Baby-sitters Club, and the four Boxcar Children. When I found a copy of Alice in Wonderland at Wal-Mart, I snuck it into church and put it inside my Bible and tried to sneak reading it during the service.

That turning point – my testimony, if you will – was a love of reading. I learned that I loved books – during long car rides, or boring afternoons at a babysitter’s house, or just lazing around on a weekend. And I can’t help but share that love with people. I want to know what people are reading; I look forward to my morning email from Goodreads, telling me what books my friends are reading. I get so excited every time a new peek-over-our-shoulders post runs on Book Riot so I can see what my fellow Rioters are reading. For my birthday this year, I wanted a latte and the chance to browse through a bookstore, slowly, taking joy in the dawdling perusal of books.

So trying to spread that love might be a little pushy. It might be presumptuous, even a little bossy. But spreading love is never really a bad thing, right? That’s what I tell myself, a former evangelical teenager turned quasi-evangelical Book Rioter:  hello. Can I just leave this book with you?


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