When I was young, books and reading were never a big part of my childhood. My parents never read to me or bought me books (not that they could afford to buy us anything beyond the necessities of life). My oldest sister, despite being nearly blind, was a voracious reader. But because of her handicaps, she spent a great deal of time at home, so reading was an escape for her. I visited the public library but was always intimidated by the variety of selection and the hundreds of pages to get through. I, of course, was forced to read books for book reports in school. I resorted to the Cliffs Notes whenever possible to get through the basics of what I considered boring time spent reading something that I had no interest in. I preferred to be outside, riding my bike with friends or traipsing through the local woods creating my own adventures or meeting friends at the local drive-in once in high school.
Through much of my adult life, fiction and novels still did not attract me. Like many young people today, TV and movies provided stories and food for entertainment. It was fast and immediate and didn’t take days to work through. And once I was married and working, who had time for such indulgences. I had things to do.
This changed later in life, when my second daughter came into my life. And the pleasure of reading to her at night became not only a beautiful bonding experience, but a new satisfying form of release and entertainment. We relished the entire Harry Potter series and I found joy in trying to create the characters in my voice and add to the drama with my rendition of those imaginative pages.
But even with that experience, it was not until I became a single person again, without the demands of family and pets, and home maintenance projects, that I allowed myself the time to finally sit quietly, without interruption or pressing needs and distractions, and have what has now become one of my greatest pleasures. A good book!
Good writing is such a delight. It is entertainment, stimulation, education, imagination, exploration, and a way to weigh our own beliefs and principles, our history and experience, our emotions and intellect. It keeps your brain active and helps you to experience those things that make us human in ways most people’s everyday lives simply do not provide. It is so easy to become overwhelmed with the day to day requirements of living and miss the observances of people and the world and events that affect us and shape us in ways we are often unaware.
I was amazed to see a video on line of an interviewer on the street stopping people and asking simply, “Can you name the title of a book?”. And so many replied, “I just don’t read” or “I can’t think of one”. Not even a classic would come to mind for them like Moby Dick or Gone With The Wind or For Whom The Bell Tolls or War and Peace, whether they had read it or not. I worry that young people today will be like I was throughout their lives and miss the beauty of the written word in favor of “tweets” and “you tube” and Netflix. Not that I don’t enjoy a well done movie or series, many of which are born from a well written novel or biography. But the beauty of a book tells the story in a way that allows you to see and create the story in your own mind, in the way you want to see it. You draw the picture, you put a face on the characters, you see the settings, and in that way the experience is yours alone.
I have my ritual now. I sit and read as soon as I come home from work most days. I have my reading chair and my bookshelf has at least ten books in line waiting for me to finish my current selection and pick something new. I love the day I sit down to finish the last chapters and close a good book and say to myself, “that was really good”. Some books fade away over time, but really good books stay with me. I keep a journal nearby and when I find inspirational quotes I record them. So many single sentences by great writers can have such an impact on us. A great example for me came from “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy. One of the most powerful stories and character studies I have ever read. In a post-apocalyptic world a man and a young boy, traveling through a deserted hostile world, come upon an old man alone. In their subsequent conversations with him about God and beliefs he says, “where men can’t live, gods fare no better”. It was the kind of statement, so simple and so profound, that made me stop reading and simply sit stunned as I absorbed these words.
I take such delight, and yet feel so inadequate in my own powers of observation (and I’m a photographer), when I read good writing and realize how incredibly observant a writer has to be. The act of writing in a way that truly describes a scene or a person, or an event in a way that you can actually picture it, feel it, empathize with it, be moved by it, takes such skill.
When I was young, I felt like reading was such a waste of time. Now that I am old, I see how much time I actually wasted on things that were not nearly as satisfying or rewarding as reading a well written book.
The musician and poet, Tom Waits, wrote “The world is a horrendous place and bad writing is destroying the quality of our suffering.”
Pick up a good book. Take the time to immerse yourself in it. It’s worth the investment.