Some days, what I most want is to sit down with the fluffiest, lightest, marshmallow-like book I can and disappear. Some days, I do just that.

But some days I need to read harder, more dark chocolate-like books. Books that tingle me with their bitter truth, that challenge me to keep reading despite pain or discomfort. Sometimes I need harder books.

I need them because they force me to see in new ways and stretch my mind to take in new language patterns. I need them because they remind me that not everyone lives life like I do and because sometimes people have a similar life but live it very differently. I need them because they stretch me.

Right now, I’m reading Penelope Fitzgerald’s The Blue Flower. It’s lovely – although it reminds me a little too much of Lolita right now – but it’s hard. The sentence structures aren’t simple, and there isn’t a movie-style plot. It’s literary fiction, and it’s very good . . . but hard.

I’m also reading Faith Works by Jim Wallis. Here, the stretching comes from the ideas – ideas about how I need to be more proactive in helping bring change, about how I need to live into the questions I have more fully, about how I need to find what my faith is calling me to do and do it. It’s not a lazy read at all.

This afternoon, I also want to start re-reading the stories in Uwem Akpan’s Say You Are One of Them. I need to be pushed; I need to be pained by the suffering of others.  And these stories do that, each told from the perspective of a child in Africa who is facing unbearable life choices, these stories do that.

Finally, in the car, I’m listening to Hot, Flat, and Crowded by Thomas Friedman.  I’ve always considering myself a person who lived “green.” But this book is forcing me to realize how very lazy I’ve been in this regard, how much more I need to be doing. How much WE, the American culture, MUST change.  Now, I follow Wallis’s advice and ponder the question – “How do I change? How do I encourage change in others?”

It’s not a time of light reading for me. And that’s okay. Soon, I will finish a book and pick up something lighter – Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, perhaps. But for now, I’m stretching.  And it’s good.

What about you? Why do you read or not read hard things? What are you reading that is challenging you?