Thoughts on Reading

There is something intoxicating about the smell of books. Whether it is the scent of new books lined up in neat rows on shelves at the local bookstore or the more experienced fragrance of books long-loved on the shelves at home.

 It’s a scent, but something more than mere fragrance.

There is a feeling of power in holding a book in one’s hands. The knowledge printed within the bound pages, thoughts from a year before or one thousand years before, is there to be understood and owned by the conquering reader.

 A feeling of comfort, perhaps, as the worn pages of a childhood favorite invite a weary adult to step back into carefree summer evenings. Memories wash over us like waves.

The most blissful part of a snow day as a child was coming in from sledding to settle down under a blanket and read all the way through a story in one day. That was a luxury to be treasured.

Sometimes hope wells up from the pages of a novel read during a tough time in life. Not like chicken soup for the soul. More like grit as the main character is challenged and wants to give up, but overcomes in the end. Those are landmarks on the road of life; they keep us moving in the right direction.

Books can be compelling as they bring back a flood of memories and give us strength for present struggles.

Nothing passes the time quiet so well, when the company is equipped, as the question, “What have you been reading lately?”

Unless the answer is a torrid bodice ripper, an instruction manual, or, worst of all, nothing, the conversation has a million paths to wend before returning to awkward silence.  Talking about books has redeemed many otherwise awful social occasions. Who, after all, doesn't want to hear about the capricious adventures of Don Quixote or even how to split cedar logs into shingles? Especially when the alternative is a story about something boorish, like the inconsiderate neighbor of someone’s nephew’s friend.

Reading books connect to the past: ours and theirs. There is something magical about reading a poem by a long-dead Englishman when the realization comes that two minds are connecting, however imperfectly, across time and space.

Unread books connect us to the future and make us lean forward into the expectant days ahead when we might have a chance to explore the mysteries of quantum physics or the tragedy of a centuries old legend. My shelves of unread books give me a sense of what is to come, if the Lord allows me time to read them.

Often we mistakenly assume it is the excitement of the adventure in the pages of our stories that should entice us to read. This is how we represent the mystery of books to children, as if reading is worthwhile only if one gets to imagine slaying dragons, training horses, or completing an arduous task like the story’s main character.

Little do we recognize that the passion and personality invested into a book on a scientific discovery may be more authentically intimate than a hero story is. There can be joy in reading non-fiction, too.

The best feeling in reading a book is that of reading the last page, turning out the lights and, like Sam Gamgee, saying “I’m home.”  The book cover closes, like the door of Sam’s hobbit hole. There is more there than the simple idea of returning from a journey. There is a change in Sam and a change in us.

When we read books, unless they are mindless drivel, we become deeper and richer.

Like real-world economics, our becoming richer does not require the impoverishment of someone else. In fact the writing process makes the author a deeper person, so it might be said that books create transactions in which all mutually benefit.

How about you? What have you been reading lately?