I viewed the beaches of Florida over the thin ecru pages of a thick hard-back novel, sand ingrained in the spine and faint water-prints of hermit crabs crawling across the black typeset. My dad put them up to it. And that is how it is, how it always has been, with me and my nose and a book held under it in exotic places. I read the third book in the Lord of the Rings trilogy on Hanauma Bay beach in Honolulu, where I learned to pronounce the impressive name – Humuhumunukunukuapuaa, which is a fish, and is one of my favorite words.
I believe in words, reading words and writing words and saying words. “Words, words, words,” to borrow from Hamlet, do more than simply communicate; they express, from the infantile cooing of “da-da” to reciting, in Middle English, the prologue of the Canterbury tales. But the words themselves are not the alchemy. They rely on syntax, alliteration, metaphor, parallelism, simile, and so on, for the full effect of their magic.
I felt that magic before I could even read as my daddy tucked me in at night with a bedtime story from Aesop or the picture book, Corduroy. One of the first full-length novels I remember reading is Watership Down by Richard Adams, a story about a group of rabbits who escape their warren and find adventure on their journey. I was captivated by the names – Hazel, Bigwig, and the gull Kehaar, from whom I learned to appreciate the word “damn.” The characters were strong and brave, and I decided to be strong and brave as well. My parents even gave me a little grey rabbit for Easter that year.
I grew to read more, and the more I read, the more I wanted to read. It was more than just enjoying a story. It was learning, learning a history or a mythology or a science, and learning always new words. It was like a door or a window was opened to a part of the world or human existence I would not otherwise experience. That is why I read. That is why I believe in words. They have a power all their own, and are perhaps more important than our hands and feet that go grabbing at the world, bumping into and merely scratching at its surface.
Crossing foreign soils with my feet and a good book, I’d like to see the planet before I have “shuffled off this mortal coil.” I hope one day I will view the shores of New Zealand or Okinawa over the pages of an exotic novel, reading and learning new words, and delving deeper into the world than my sand-covered feet.
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