Skip to main content Skip to search Skip to search

Biography & Autobiography Literary

In Bed with the Word

Reading, Spirituality, and Cultural Politics

by (author) Daniel Coleman

The University of Alberta Press
Initial publish date
Feb 2009
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Feb 2009
    List Price
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Feb 2009
    List Price

Add it to your shelf

Where to buy it


While reading is a deeply personal activity, paradoxically, it is also fundamentally social and outward-looking. Daniel Coleman, a lifelong reader and professor of literature, combines story with meditation to reveal this paradox and illustrate why, more than ever, we need this special brand of "quiet time" in our lives. In Bed with the Word sparks with every conceivable enticement for those who worry about living in a culture of distraction and who long to reconnect with something deeper.

About the author

After finishing high school in Ethiopia, Daniel Coleman earned university degrees at the University of Regina and the University of Alberta. He now holds the Canada Research Chair in Critical Ethnicity and Race Study in the English department of McMaster University. Daniel Coleman is a leading researcher in the depiction of immigrant men in Canadian literature. He has won the John Charles Polanyi Prize for his study of how literary texts produce and reinforce categories of cultural identification such as gender, ethnicity and nationality. His critically acclaimed book, Masculine Migrations: Reading the Postcolonial Male in "New Canadian" Narratives, published in 1998 by University of Toronto Press, is considered the foundational Canadian work in the field. While being a bahir-zaff throughout his childhood brought Daniel Coleman the pain of never fully belonging, it also gave him the immeasurable benefits and insights of an intercultural life. Several of his essays on his missionary childhood have appeared in magazines and journals. "The Babies in the Colonial Washtub," included in a revised form in The Scent of the Eucalyptus, won a Silver Medal in the National Magazine Awards. 

Daniel Coleman's profile page


  • Unknown, AAUP Book, Jacket & Journal Show - Trade Typographic Book

Editorial Reviews

"The world is so fast and loud, but how much good would some extra time of peace and mediation do? In Bed with the Word is author Daniel Coleman's claim that the world would be a much better place if people slowed down and stopped to enjoy life, as well as embrace the written word more thoroughly. Calling the modern world a culture of distraction, Coleman makes many interesting points through his work. In Bed with the Word is a fine and highly recommended piece of social issues writing." Bookwatch, July 2009

"Most avid readers don't need much by way of motivation for what they do. Still, In Bed with the Word, a thoughtful meditation on reading by Daniel Coleman, provides good reasons to keep reading. Coleman considers what's going on in the practice of reading, and posits it as both countercultural and spiritually beneficial. He doesn't present a romanticized view of reading, however. People can be damaged by it (even by the 'Good Book'). And, he says, 'readers can be insufferable.' But what's both countercultural and spiritual about reading is its slowness, its emphasis on critical alertness, and its way of humility. 'The desire to read emphasizes a basic generosity toward the Other that is the condition of all language.'" Dora Dueck, borrowing bones, May 31, 2010 [Full post at]

"Reading, according to Daniel Coleman, is more than just becoming engrossed in a story or learning information that will enrich your life. It's a cultural act that has religious ramifications on personal and societal levels. The passage in the [initial] passage was Coleman's older brother, John, and the book he was trying to read was the King James Bible. The author is quick to point out that it was not the Christian text that made the act religious. Rather it was the quiet contemplation, the involvement with a cultural treasure and the act of separating oneself from the world.... For someone who has difficulty becoming engrossed with books, In Bed with the Word had a kind of power over me. His combination of narrative with meditative passages (including songs and historical references) lends the entire work a warm cadence, a rhythmic introspection that leads farther and farther outward from within you.... Interesting anecdotes aside, this is an important book for parents to read in order for them to understand why they should instill the value of books in their own children before they get too old. What better time to do this than at the height of summer when there is a lot of free time to sit around with a good novel. Kids shouldn't be spending the entire summer with video games either, right? Coleman says that it only needs to have words and, despite the title, you don't actually have to be in bed to read them." Scott Hayes, St. Albert Gazette, July 22, 2009

"The joy of the independent bookstore, like the joy of the independent music store, is in its ability to feature the new and the unknown. As intuitive as Amazon's 'Customers Who Bought This Might Enjoy That' has become, there will never be a substitute for the 'Staff Picks' section. I enjoyed visiting Audreys Books on Jasper Avenue in Edmonton recently, where I bought Daniel Coleman's In Bed With The Word. Dr. Coleman is my age, roughly, and this book is personal, reflective; it is the kind of book one associates with the seasoned scholars I guess we are becoming (or have now become). In any case, it is neither the kind of book I would expect simply to stumble across on the 'net nor the kind of thing a brick and mortar store would here stock, even our university bookstore. I was happy to give my money to Audreys." Craig Monk, The Classroom Conservative,

"We are very good at understanding, analyzing, and deconstructing what texts say, but we are much less inclined to explore how religious people touch, hold, mark, underline, cut, copy, carry, discuss, highlight, and dog-ear those texts (to explore, in short, how people read). Onto such fertile interpretive ground, Daniel Coleman's brief, but rich, reflection on reading charts several intellectual pathways that scholars can follow in studying this dense cultural practice.... Drawing upon literary theory, classical theology, social history, and personal anecdote, Coleman argues that reading creates a kind of internal interpretive space that becomes filled with the inescapable paradoxes of the human experience.... Between isolation and community, presence and absence, and meaning and mystery is a chasm that reading, again paradoxically, 'emphasizes and bridges' (72). And the ways in which reading emphasizes and bridges these tensions, Coleman continues, are inextricably spiritual and political.... In Bed With the Word is recommended reading for anyone who is personally or academically interested in reading's enduring social importance." Christopher D. Cantwell, Newberry Library, The Journal of Religion and Popular Culture, July 2011 [doi:10.3138/jrpc.23.2.251]

"The kind of material that Coleman urges his reader to read is not narrowly specified, though most of his discussion is about literary, religious, mythical, and historical books. Coleman's counsel is somewhat countercultural because books, the old-fashioned kind, not websites or e-books or movies or 'social texts,' are what he has in mind. His fear-which to the present reviewer is amply justified-is that alternative, heavily commodified sources of knowledge are increasingly substituting for book-reading, and that these other sources fail to deliver many of reading's benefits.... In Bed with the Word is bound to find an eager audience among book groups both religious and secular. I hope it also finds an audience in university classrooms..." Stephen Ney, Canadian Literature, 20 May 2010. [Full review at]

"Coleman is a storyteller. He writes with an ease that brings to life his stories of pilgrim-readers on the path to personal and social transformation. Infused with creativity and playfulness, Coleman's arguments are also carefully crafted. He draws on the work of figures such as Plato, Augustine and Derrida to validate his points. He provides a fair assessment of reading, acknowledging the instances where it has been used to suppress and/or exclude.... Coleman has succeeded in presenting an original exploration of reading as a catalyst for personal and socio-political transformation.... The book would be an excellent addition to upper-level undergraduate and graduate courses that examine spirituality, culture and social change. With its evocative examples and array of perspectives, it should provoke interesting and challenging class discussions." Lauren Michelle Levesque, Studies in Religion 40(4)

"In Bed with the Word" isn't for everyone, but it'll become a touchstone for an awful lot of people. Spiritual readers will adore this book, I think, meaning 'spiritual' in its conventional sense as approximately the same as 'religious,' but non-believing readers who spend some time with it, deliberately vulnerable and open to its conversation, may become its biggest fans. I can't recommend this book strongly enough, to anyone interested in the practice or value of reading." book addiction, [Full blog post at]

"In Bed with the Word: Reading, Spirituality, and Cultural Politics, Coleman's latest book, is not only an appreciation of the act of reading and a meditation on its cultural applications, but also an argument for the kind of spiritual engagement with books that might ordinarily be reserved for holy texts--a sort of lectio divina for secular thought.... In its rejection of what Coleman calls 'commodity culture'...the act of reading is counter-cultural.... In its ability to empower populations, reading is also revolutionary.... Whether we readers will 're-think our relationship to reading...' is uncertain, but in offering us his contemplations, [Coleman] has at least given us cause to consider it." Mark Callanan, The Malahat Review, December 2009

"In Bed with the Word is...part memoir, part essay, a lyrical text that moves gracefully between citations of Socrates, St. Augustine, Barthes and Derrida, and funny, poignant stories about boarding school in Addis Ababa, or Coleman's professorial misadventures, confronted by the truculent university students of the digital age.... Over the centuries, many religious leaders and philosophers have been wary of reading, seeing it as an escape from reality and community, or a barrier to spiritual engagement. But Coleman sees reading as an act of trust, of caritas, a way of opening yourself to the ideas of others, a path to spiritual transcendence.... For Coleman, books aren't merely a convenient, portable way to transmit doctrine or to spread knowledge. In the very act of reading, he says, we assume a posture of spiritual openness that connects us to something beyond ourselves." Paula Simons, The Edmonton Journal, July 12, 2009

"In a very compelling way, In Bed with the Word is of itself a meditation on reading. The Word, writ large in both a religious and metatextual sense, simultaneously stands for an immeasurable realm of knowing and an emptied out focus of contemplation. Even more than Chris Hedges' Empire of Illusion (to whom Daniel Coleman alluded during his presentation), In Bed with the Word regards the essence and future of literacy in a multimedia world." Donald Officer, Ottawa International Writers Festival, Oct 25, 2009 [Full entry at]

"Writing is organized, edited, distilled, argues Coleman. Therefore the attitude we bring to reading is critical. We must assume we have something to learn. From the isolation of the individual, in private, the reader must be open and expectant, willing to go slowly, to be reflective, to long for and be prepared to engage with the other.... If Coleman is correct, some of the people who have the most profound impact on us are people we can never meet or expect to know, yet they are companions, advisors and confidants as we make our journeys through life. This book is a very personal account, encompassing Coleman's own reflections on many varied influences.... Make some quiet time and read In Bed with the Word slowly. The author practises what he preaches. A gentle and reflective approach to this book will reward the thoughtful fellow traveller." Angela Mende, Law Society Journal, October 2009

"Daniel’s little gem of a book gets into many of my favourite things – the posture of reading and reflection; the function of slowness in thinking; the difference between criticism and what Daniel calls discernment; the spiritual (not to say religious) significance of reading; and the necessity of good reading turning to moral action. "In Bed with the Word" is a provoking and affirming read... [It is] the sort of book that I have come to call a meditation, something like Gaston Bachelard’s "The Poetics of Space", Michel de Certeau’s "The Practice of Everyday Life", or (closer in time and space) Tim Lilburn’s "Going Home"." [Full article at]

HA&L Magazine

"In Bed with the Word argues that reading can yield benefits in the realms of both spirituality and cultural politics. Coleman's book succeeds in giving clear and logical explanation about these benefits, and because of its undogmatic and meditative tone it invites and enables the reader to experience what Coleman is commending more generally for book-readers.... In Bed with the Word is bound to find an eager audience among book groups both religious and secular. I hope it also finds an audience in university classrooms..." Stephen Ney, Canadian Literature 206, Autumn 2010

"Coleman presents vignettes of individuals and their own personal encounters with books at pivotal moments in their lives. A young boy of six in his first days at boarding school, feeling lost and alone, curls up in his bed with the King James Bible to recreate a morning ritual that was modeled by his parents. Even though he does not yet read, he understands the comfort of books. Elsewhere in the world, a curious eight-year-old Trinidadian girl, looking for a hidden cache of sweet treats in her grandmother's linen drawer, discovers instead a book on the 1791 Haitian revolution that explains her own past and determines her eventual emergence as a writer (Dionne Brand) examining the cultural politics of African dislocation and the trauma of slavery. Coleman goes on to present others whose reading encounters have created seismic shifts in their interior worlds and have surfaced back into their daily lives, that have at once become both mirror and ocean." Margaret Anne Fehr, Prairie Books Now, Spring 2009

"This issue [of the Colleagues List] begins with a book notice concerning an intriguing volume of spiritual reflection from Daniel Coleman who has taught Canadian & Diasporic literature for many years at McMaster University in Hamilton, ON. Coleman did undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degree work at Regina and the University of Alberta, Edmonton. The son of missionary parents, he grew up in Africa and continues to be strongly influenced in his spiritual writing by his evangelical Protestant background. It is most unusual that a secular university press would consider releasing In Bed with the Word. But the University of Alberta Press, in its wisdom, has seen this book for what it is -- a high quality contribution to literature. Coleman is influenced by colleague Ron Rolheiser who readers of this letter hear from regularly. He is also a reader of the work of Karen Armstrong and several other modern writers from the field of faith. Coleman blends a solid grasp of biblical and theological literature with a strong sense of what appeals to serious modern readers." Canadian Anglicans, Colleagues List (edited by Wayne A. Holst), May 2, 2009

"what [Coleman is] interested in here is how the physical posture of reading opens us up to spirituality, in whatever form we might find it-and Coleman, who quotes from St. Augustine as nimbly as from Eastern thinkers and Bob, his "red-bearded Buddhist postman," is extremely ecumenical in his tastes. And like a Buddhist practising yogic meditation, Coleman takes readers through the physical steps of reading and shows how each one opens us up to new levels of understanding....In Bed with the Word, a brilliant little volume, is exactly the type of book that will make you better for having read it, and that is reason enough in itself to get back in bed and, to quote St. Augustine, 'Take up and read.'" Sarah Ligon, new trail, Autumn 2009

"Coleman writes in a flowing style that, while academic, is also engaging and includes moments of quite lovely storytelling in its own right. His discussion of the topic, while dependent on concepts of spirituality coming from St. Augustine and on the purpose of words as signposts, from Derrida, is easily comprehended by a reader who is fascinated by the deeper meanings of the actual practice of reading itself, not just spirituality as evidenced by content of a text. I've really enjoyed this one and have flagged at least 20 passages to reread and ruminate on." Melanie [Full review at:]

"It was lunch on a rainy Thursday afternoon. Cool and foggy, this was the sort of day you would picture for October, the sort that makes you want to curl up by the fire with cocoa, a warm blanket, and a good book, sentiments echoed in the opening remarks of the speaker of the day, Daniel Coleman, as he set out to address the room of avid readers on the value of reading. For each member of the audience, reading is treasured for a different reason, but what connected us all was the passion for the written word.... But much as my own personal reading interests were invested in the talk, it was my role as an educator that really made this event a 'must-attend' for me." Melanie Barclay, November 2009 [For full blog entry, see]

"Such is the power of reading that it not only nourishes spirituality and enables us to see beyond the limitations of our own experience; it also reinvigorates our cultural politics, says Coleman. The dialogue shared between an author and those who read can change the ways in which we are in the world and produce people empowered to live for justice and compassion. Through dialogue with poetry, history, memoir and fiction, Daniel Coleman demonstrates how spirituality and social change are supported through the disarmingly simple, yet deeply subversive practice of reading. In Bed with the Word invites us into conversation with an author who approaches the world with interest and generosity, handles words with skill and great care, and eagerly extends an invitation to allow ourselves to be transformed and connected by what we read. I realized it had done its work in me when I found myself making plans to read it aloud with friends. It is a deeply satisfying read." Barbara Mutch, Carey Theological College

"By spirituality, Coleman says he means something that clearly flows through our religious impulses and experiences, but it is not identical with them, for it also flows through our psychology and physical sensibility, as well as through our social and political lives. By spirituality, he means a drive or energy in ourselves that is outward-reaching, that is a kind of longing to be meaningfully connected. Coleman means what finally moves us, what propels our actions and sparks our imaginations....Thus, spirituality is the way we live out our relationships with our environment and with other people, as well as with our secret selves.", April 2009

Other titles by

Related lists