Not Everything You Read In Books Is True, Andi

My first lesson in textual interpretation, bias, and misinformation came over spaghetti and garlic bread. 5713922088

One night at the dinner table, Dad and I were debating something – as we did most nights at dinner.  The conversation usually began with Dad’s question, “What did you learn today?” Then, my brother would share, and I would share.  Then, Dad – intentionally – would challenge something we said, and we’d have to defend or concede, all in a mostly quiet, but sometimes tear-filled way. (Okay, I was the only one who cried – I’m tear-prone, what can I say.)

But this one night, Dad and I were talking, and he asked me where I learned that particular piece of information, the nature of which I cannot for the life of me remember now.  And I told him, “I read it in a book,” thinking this would be the end of the discussion.  Books were true – that’s it.

“Not everything you read in books is true or correct, Andi.”

I caught my breath, stared, and probably cried a little.


These words from my dad were the first ones that encouraged me to read more critically.  They taught me to check my sources, to look for the slant in the telling, to confirm the information against other texts and with other people, to question everything, in other words. This is a hard way to read – it doesn’t allow me to take things at face value, and sometimes – as when I began reading Scripture this way – it shakes up the foundations of my world view. However, here’s what I’ve learned – truth is truth is truth.  If it’s true (which, as my friend Shannon pointed out, is not the same as factual), it will hold up.  If it’s not true or only partially true, it will crumble beneath scrutiny.  For me, I’d rather see something crumble than hold firm to a falsehood. Thus, when I read a text – fiction, nonfiction, Scripture, film, journalism – I look for the truth. The part of what is written that resonates with honest and sincerity, the part that confirms what I already know or challenges it with something more powerful and resonant.

I love reading this way because it means that while I put the Christian Bible on the top of the most influential books in my life, it’s not the ONLY influential book in my life.  Marilynne Robinson’s book Gilead taught me so much about love and faith and hope, not to mention writing. And Richard Riordan’s Heroes of Olympus Series 3 reminded me that women are not only often heroic but that they are often underestimated in so many ways. And when I read the Book of Esther in Scripture, I don’t have to read it literally to see a person who hears the cry of the oppressed and uses her power to save their lives.

For me, a literal reading of any text is too narrow.  It would mean that I missed the masterful use of language in Lolita because I could not see past the entirely wrong relationship between Humbert Humbert and a young girl.  Literal reading would mean that I just saw Owen Meany as a kid with a tiny voice and small stature instead of as the Christ-like model of sacrifice that he is.  I’m not willing to give up the richness of those stories for anything.


Dad’s lesson – that one sentence, handed to me when I was 9 or 10 – gave me a gift – the ability to take in words and tumble them around like ice cubes in my mouth and spit out what does taste right.  An eye for interpretation and the ability to question is a gift I will never regret receiving, no matter how much it shakes up my world view.

 How do you read texts?  Where did you learn how to read them that way?  

  • Pilar Arsenec

    Great post. I agree. I don’t believe everything I read, hear or see in the news, or in reading books. The media is biased and greed driven. Books are written by flawed people, who have differing opinions, world views, perceptions and life experience. For instance, Ernest Hemingway wrote, to the affect, that you should write drunk. Now, that may have worked for him, which it seemingly did, but it won’t work for me. When I did drink, and I drank with the best of them, a lot of nonsense came out of my mouth, lol. But, when it comes to the Bible, Andi, well, that’s a different story. I believe it. I think it is God breathed. I know you and I don’t agree, but I want to personally thank you for always challenging me to go deeper. I admit, there are times I get upset, but I dig deeper into myself. I ask myself questions. Pilar, what do you believe. I get welled up with passion and emotion, and the words are buried underneath. I have so much I want to say, but the words are jumbled up. But by this, as I said, I go deeper and begin to really face myself, what do I believe? Why do I believe it? What causes me not to agree with this one or with that one? And it’s all good, because my faith solidifies through personal conviction. I don’t like to talk much about what I’ve done in my life. I don’t ever want to sound arrogant or condescending, or a know-it-all, but I have studied many religions and traveled extensively as well. My faith is not an academic or intellectual one. I’m not intellectually lazy is what I’m saying and I am generally an open minded and open hearted person. I love people and you have met me, so you know this to be true. Based on a personal encounter with God and having things happen to me by which were and are inexplicable by logic or reasoning, but aligned itself with the Bible, I could not deny the power of God or His presence. There is so much I can write, but I don’t want to take up your entire comment section. LOL!

    • Andi

      Oh, Pilar, I, too, think the Bible is given by God. I just don’t read it to mean that every word is factual, historical, or relevant literally today. So please don’t read me saying it’s not literal to mean I don’t believe it. I do, with all my being, just not all pieces of it literally.

      • Pilar Arsenec

        Even if you didn’t, it wouldn’t change my love, respect and admiration for you, dear Andi. I value and appreciate your friendship. Hugs! :)