I wanted to write an ode to reading but, finding I tend more towards the prosaic, perhaps a “case” for reading would be more appropriate.
What would a life without books be like? Without the characters, ideas, bits of wisdom and broader understanding of life and meaning that we glean from the books we’ve encountered throughout our lives?
Charles Munger, the vice-chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, which is the conglomerate controlled by Warren Buffett, said, “In my whole life, I have known no wise people (over a broad subject matter area) who didn’t read all the time — none, zero. You’d be amazed at how much Warren reads — and at how much I read. My children laugh at me. They think I’m a book with a couple of legs sticking out.”
Scientists, doctors, teachers and psychologists can all list the benefits that regular reading brings. These include reduced rates of stress and depression, greater empathy for others, greater success in the workplace, less mental decline in later life, increased health and more.
But, like most readers, I don’t read because I should. I just read because I love books.
At the same time, I sense — though I don’t fully understand — how stories have been critically important in shaping and guiding the personal world I live in. Salmon Rushdie said, “Those who do not have the power over the story that dominates their lives, the power to retell it, rethink it, deconstruct it, joke about it and change it as times change, truly are powerless, because they cannot think new thoughts.”
We could break Salmon Rushdie’s notion down to something very basic, for example: How do we know that living honestly is the right way to live? How do we know what living honestly entails?
I think the answer is that we are guided by stories. Stories give us emotional connections that guide us to live according to certain examples and precepts. And this truth extends well beyond simple moral rules — it holds true for our total development as thinking, social beings. Understanding “our” stories gives us control and power over our lives.
Not everyone gets their stories from books. Do films and TV provide the same benefits? I think so, to some extent. Paulo Coelho stated that “the book is a film which takes place in the mind of a reader. That’s why we go to movies and say ‘Oh, the book is better.’ ”
The Internet, on the other hand, is a different kind of beast altogether. There is no question that purely as a source of facts and information, the Internet is pre-eminent. But to gain the lifelong benefits of reading, access to books (whether in print or electronic) is required.
Imagine, if you will, a child who never learns from stories, but only from Google searches and app store downloads. How differently would this child interact with the world around her? What kind of monster would we create? In my view, we’d be wise to heed Albert Einstein’s advice, “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales.”
So, this summer, sit down with a bowl of fresh local cherries and a good book from your friendly public library. As some wise person somewhere might have said, “You can’t buy happiness, but you can borrow books for free from the library, and that’s kind of the same thing”.
Have a wonderful summer!
Aaron Francis is the chief librarian at Creston Valley Public Library. He is currently reading Night of the Animals by Bill Broun.