I teach English 0955, 1010, and 2010 at Weber State University. And I am still astounded at how many college students hate to read or have not read a full book since they were a kid (yes, admitting that they made it through high school without actually reading a full book). I spent the day today reading a book. Getting so absorbed into the characters and the plot to the point that the world just drifted by around me, hours flitted by without my notice, and the pages just kept turning until I was at the end. It was not a particularly literary book, it was, what I like to call, brain candy reading. I started the book at about midnight last night, got up and started reading about ten, and finished the book around six this evening. And I loved it. I love getting absolutely lost in another world. And it makes me sad that more people don’t know that kind of simple pleasure.
It’s not only my students who have missed out on the joys of reading, it is so very many people one meets in life (especially in the state of Utah). I remember asking someone once what the last book they read was, and the response: “does a magazine count?” NO!!! A magazine does not count! I believe that those who don’t read are truly missing out on an adventure of a hundred lifetimes. I believe that those who don’t like to read, simply have not found their taste and should keep experimenting. There is simply no other logical answer, unless as Jane Austen said, they are “intolerably stupid.”
I once had a 0955 student who raised her hand on the first day of class and boldly stated “I hate reading!” By the end of the semester, she was recommending books for me to read. I truly believe a whole new life awaited her – one with adventure and romance, compassion and knowledge. In my classes, I teach about individuals who risked death simply to learn how to read. I try to communicate the power behind reading, but, like breathing, we take it for granted. We can read whenever we want. We can read whatever we want; therefore, we so often choose to simply not read. And it absolutely breaks my heart. It breaks my heart that people are so content to live one simple life, no matter how exciting and how full, it is still just one life. But by reading, one can live a hundred, a thousand, a million lives. One can be a queen or a hobbit, love a knight or an alien princess; one can go to outer space or Camelot or the Highlands of Scotland or the red dunes of Mars; one can love, live, laugh, and cry all because of a beautifully written character with a beautifully written story in a beautifully created world.
I remember reading one set of books by one of my favorite Christian fiction authors,Liz Curtis Higgs. I cried. No, that is a gross understatement. It was one of the most cathartic moments of my life. I bawled. I screamed. I wailed. I very nearly beat my breast and pulled my hair. I lived another’s life, and it was excruciatingly painfully, and it was one of the greatest experiences of my existence that I would never trade. I am currently reading another set of books. Over the last six books of the series, I became very connected to one of the characters, in book six, he was killed. Again, I cried. I had grown to love him. And he is now gone. And like the heroine of the story, I too wept over his passing.
Now back to the beginning, I spent today, all day, reading a book. And I consider that a very productive day. I have done this many times in the past. I have an ex who used to . . . not approve(?) of my ability to disappear for hours into another world. He thought I lacked responsibility, perhaps, at times, I did neglect a responsibility. But I can tell you that I don’t remember what was neglected, or how much stress I caused myself by having to play catch up at a later date, but I do remember the feeling of being lost in another world. I think I even determined I might have been addicted to reading. YES, you heard me right: ADDICTED TO READING. At times, I found it, quite literally, painful to try to put down an unfinished book. Hell, sometimes it’s painful to put down a finished book because I simply don’t want it to end. These days, days like today, don’t come nearly as often as I wish or as they used to. I can’t seem to get lost quite as easily as I used to, perhaps it’s the crazyness of life or perhaps my tastes in reading material are shifting and it’s taking time to find that addictive taste again. But when they do come I suffer from a dilemma: get completely lost and absorbed into the written word or allow the joy to prolong itself by reading slowly. My addiction has only ever allowed me the former choice (so,I guess it’s not really a choice at all).
If I could wish just one wish for this world, I actually think it would be that everyone could find joy in reading like I do. Books are beautiful which is why I can’t bear to get a kindle or a nook. Because a book is a living, breathing, fighting, beautiful thing and we should never take it for granted. If we could only understand the struggle and the longing of the people who can’t read, but want to, the risks taken throughout the ages for words on a page. Words on a page started a Reformation. Words on a page allowed a slave to understand freedom and devote his every second to gaining it. Words on a page have so often been a way to find myself.Words on a page give life, they give such a rich and beautiful life and it is ours for the taking, we just have to want it. Oh how I wish more people would want it. Read, read anything (yes, even start from a magazine if you must but quickly graduate to something more substantial). Read fiction, read history, ready biographies, read psychology, read whatever whets your appetite. JUST READ! Open up your mind and your imagination to the possibilities that await you and you might just be surprised at where life takes you.
I’m gonna leave you with a few favorite quotes about reading:
“The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.” ~ Jane Austen
“There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them.” ~ Joseph Brodsky
“To sit alone in the lamplight with a book spread out before you, and hold intimate converse with men of unseen generations – such is a pleasure beyond compare.” ~Kenko Yoshida
“Lord! when you sell a man a book you don’t sell just twelve ounces of paper and ink and glue – you sell him a whole new life. Love and friendship and humour and ships at sea by night – there’s all heaven and earth in a book, a real book.” ~Christopher Morley
And my very favorites because they describe reading as I wish I could describe it:
“Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.” ~Charles W. Eliot
“A great book should leave you with many experiences, and slightly exhausted at the end. You live several lives while reading it.” ~William Styron
“My test of a good novel is dreading to begin the last chapter.” ~Thomas Helm
You know you’ve read a good book when you turn the last page and feel a little as if you have lost a friend. ~Paul Sweeney
And oh how I have made and lost so many friends 🙂