My congregation, in their wisdom, grant me four weeks of study leave each year, during which I’m freed of my other duties (writing, leading services, going to meetings, responding to e-mail, etc.) and asked to focus, instead, on refilling my intellectual and spiritual cup. I take its status as work time seriously. However, I’m also seldom capable of reading, writing, and planning for eight hours straight. A busy study-leave day involved lots of these, interspersed with bouts of pulling weeds, cleaning the kitchen, cooking dinner, practicing the piano. (I am suddenly pondering the difference between “playing the piano” and “practicing the piano.” Hmm.) I think as I weed. Back in the house, I jump from book to book. After 30 pages of one, I turn on the computer and write a bunch of childhood memories, a project I’m undertaking for my parents and any other family members who might be interested one day. Then I go on to another book.

So study leave activity is pretty indistinguishable from reading for pleasure, except that I’m more conscious of my choices, and rereading Agatha Christie is strictly not included. Yesterday, when I was mostly reveling in having a day when I had neither to preach nor to study, I read half of The Anthropocene Reviewed, a book of essays by the novelist John Green. Pure pleasure to read, but also absolutely chock-full of “that’ll preach” nuggets (though this is undercut somewhat by the fact that Green has preached on them first, and beautifully). So: was that a study leave day? Sure. Kind of. Whatever.

Earlier in the day, I read an essay and a half in Keeping an Eye Open, a book about art that I came across while browsing the public library’s online catalog and took out because it’s about art and it’s by Julian Barnes, whose novels I’ve liked. But Barnes and I got off to a bad start when I read his table of contents. White European men, every single one, though he crosses the pond along with his final artist, Claes Oldenburg, who was born in Sweden but emigrated to (gasp!) the United States. No one from the more than half of the world that isn’t male, or the more than 90 percent that isn’t European. Okay, Amy, calm down, I told myself. You’re not going for a comprehensive introduction to art; you’re peeking into one person’s mind, and this mind loves 19th-century French artists. So do you, so chill. It won’t hurt you to dip into Gericault and Bonnard. He’s a good writer. And at least he doesn’t write about Renoir.

I told myself all of that, and then I started reading, and his tone was soooo annoying. Arch, snide, obsessed with rating things as worthy or unworthy. Going back to John Green after that was like hanging out with your best friend, who just happens to be the Dalai Lama, after enduring a forced afternoon tea with your most supercilious high school teacher, where he was commenting dismissively on the outfits of everyone else in the tea shop, and all the scones were sprinkled with caraway seeds. The lovely thing about Green’s book is that, while it is literally a series of reviews, each ending with a one- to five-star rating, he doesn’t seem judgmental at all. He writes with love, humor, and above all that form of honesty that isn’t so much about revealing the truth of things, but revealing the truth about oneself. I guess you’d call it humility.