There is no Frigate like a Book
To take us Lands away,
Nor any Coursers like a Page
Of prancing Poetry –
This Traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of Toll –
How frugal is the Chariot
That bears a Human soul. –Emily Dickinson
I love to read. I know that this is not true of everyone and, honestly, that makes me sad. What makes me even sadder is that the number of people who like to read seems to be shrinking. People don’t even like to listen to someone else read to them. When I first went back to teaching in 1999 my students LOVED for me to read to them. As recently as 2006 I had seniors who begged me to read aloud in class, and since then I have received emails asking for the titles of books I read to my classes because former students wanted to revisit those stories. But reading aloud has become an exercise in futility in these last years. The majority of students either cannot or will not make the effort to listen and visualize a story in their imaginations. I find this very sad.
I could write about why I think this is. I could go on about video games and get preachy about television and movies, but I don’t feel like it. That sort of thing has been done and over done. Besides, education through the ages has always faced hard issues. I heard Susan Wise Bauer speak earlier this summer and one of my favorite things she said was, “Every society has its challenges. We don’t have invading Goths. We have computer technology.” I LOVED it! Technology is our “hard issue.” I can’t resist saying, however, that the Romans ignored the Goths until it was too late. One of the reasons I teach history is that we need to learn from it so we don’t make the same mistakes. I’ll let you think that through on your own.
My defense of reading is that literature is part of what makes us human. We connect to one another, to those who have gone before, and even to God through story. It is true that movies tell stories very beautifully. I love film and I enjoy seeing and talking about great movies with others, but a film cannot portray a story in the same manner as the written word. Words go deeper. Books can convey emotions, ideas, reactions, and thought processes in a way that film cannot. Books take us outside of ourselves and our own experiences and connect us to others. We need that more than ever in our modern lives. We are in danger of becoming isolated each from the other. We are so busy that we have little time for deep discussion. Communication is instantaneous and short. We communicate most often to convey information, not ideas or feelings. Sharing feelings is cheesy. No one wants to know that stuff.
On the practical side, reading is an easy and inexpensive way to “see” the world. I have been on exactly one beach vacation in my entire life. When I was 14, my family spent a week at the Jersey shore. Other than that, we always spent my father’s vacation time going back “home” to Western Pennsylvania to visit relatives. But I spent every summer solving mysteries with Nancy Drew, flying around the world with Amelia Earhart, and talking to the animals with Dr. Doolittle. I was never bored. How many kids can say that today?
Nothing really changed when I reached adulthood. Pastors don’t really have money for vacations, especially when they have five children, but as a family we spent a lot of time on Prince Edward Island with Anne Shirley and in the big woods and on the prairie with Laura Ingalls. We even left this world behind as we “traveled” to Narnia and Middle Earth. It was a good life.
These days I love to vacation in Mitford and solve mysteries with Lord Peter Wimsey, and I am coming late to poetry. I find that poetry feeds my soul. Reading expands our souls and our minds. Even if I get stuck somewhere without a book, I am not bored. My reading has given me lots of things to think about. I can always come up with something to consider, to turn over and around in my mind, to look at from every angle. Life is never boring. The more difficult works I challenge myself with, the more I learn and the more I grow. Reading is a gift. Why not open it?