I believe in books. The first book that made a difference in my life was one that I don’t recall reading; I may not have. What was important was that my sister was reading this book and the comics in it were making her laugh. Sibling rivalry kicked in and I marched straight to my mother, demanding that she teach me to read. Never believe people who tell you that comics aren’t valuable reading; because of that comic book I entered the wonderful world of books well before I ever set foot in school.
After that first time when jealousy made me determined, curiosity took over and I found I could not resist a great title, an intriguing passage, a crisp printed page. At thirty-six, I am comfortable in my skin and in my life overall; at six, sixteen and even twenty-six it was a different matter. But can you truly call your child introverted when they meet new people every few days or so, avidly following every move they make? I may have had my nose in the pages of a book at every opportunity but while I was there I was immersed in history, traveling across continents and cultures, exploring the universe. I have thanked my mother often enough for books she has given me over the years, but it now occurs to me that I need to thank her for that first and best gift of access.
Over time, other books have left their impressions on my life. The books given by or to friends, containing just those words that have been going through my mind or theirs, framing perfectly the understanding between us. The books I have read for one class or another, that opened up new avenues of thought. Books of wisdom that I have consulted at times of difficulty; books of poetry that have unexpectedly taken my breath away. Stories and characters that have given me such pleasure that I have returned to them as to a good conversation.
I worry, as we all do, about the future. From the small library where I now to go to work every day, the world’s competing interests look daunting and insurmountable. But I only have to pick a book off the shelf to be reminded of what I have learned, why I am there; over time, my love of stories has deepened into the conviction that books and their contents can play the most essential role: they can teach us to know and understand each other, and find our humanity in understanding. Education, development, wisdom, compassion – all of these things can come to you from learning more about a faraway place, or spending time with the words from our greatest minds. It is all there – just pick it up, and read.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.