I am proud to say that I am a book geek.
Much like my mother before me, I tend to buy books impulsively (and incessantly). Since I teach during the academic year, and read approximately 800 student English assignments each session, reading for pleasure has, in the past few years, become a bit of a luxury. Add to that, I’ve lost my perfect 20/20 eyesight and developed astigmatism and nearsightedness. As a result, I have ended up with quite a cornucopia of unread books lining my shelves. I finally got glasses at the end of last summer, and much to my surprise started to really enjoy reading again. The first thing I did was read the 6th volume of Harry Potter, followed in quick succession by the final volume.
Being able to read again has been a gift. And despite my busy schedule, I am finding that I want to turn off the television (the “glass teat,” as Stephen King calls it) and read books, magazines, literary journals, etc., instead. By doing so, I have more control over what I am taking into my consciousness. This is something I think is paramount to remaining hopeful and feeling good during these turbulent times. I also think that most of the decent information about what is going on in the world is coming out in books, since our news media is now owned by a small handful of mega-media conglomerates whose main focus is in disseminating propaganda and fear. So, my book collection has become quite a source of solace, information, entertainment, and knowledge. (And, I am sure that Amazon.com loves me.)
This summer I have been teaching summer school, so I have mostly opted for froth: Sophie Kinsella’s Remember Me, all three volumes of Stephenie Meyer’s vampire trilogy (Twilight, New Moon, and Eclipse), as well as her recent novel, The Host. I’ve read What We Ache For by Oriah Mountain Dreamer; The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch; Standing at the Water’s Edge by Anne Paris; The New Golden Age: The Coming Revolution Against Political Corruption and Economic Chaos by Ravi Batra and Radical Forgiveness by Colin Tipping, to name just a few. I am always working on four or five at a time, usually in wildly divergent topic areas.
I have loved reading since I was a child. I am starting to mourn the evidence that our love of reading, of all kinds of books, is slowly being lost. That saddens me. We are bombarded by information from everywhere, 24/7: the internet, television, video games, YouTube, and 500 cable channels (though we often wistfully wonder why “nothing is on”). It is easy to forget the simple charm of a book. Books allow me to “fall through the page” into a different world. That is what I love about them, the fact that I can travel into deep space or to Hogwarts or to the edge of the South China Sea, all without leaving my chair. I love being challenged to think about the political system in this country, or about the value of silence and solitude (two things I cherish as a writer). I love all that I learn when I read; I love the way I am changed by what I read.
I grew up surrounded by readers. My mother, who is 73, still reads several books a week. My older brother reads voraciously and makes his living working in a bookstore. I am a writer. I am currently working on two novels, a collection of poems, and a whole pile of other projects. You may think that my desire that we continue to read stems from my ambition as a writer. Perhaps that is a small part of it. But mostly I think we need to continue to foster a love of reading (and by association, writing) so that we do not lose sight of the best, most inspiring, and important ideas and solutions available to us.
Reading opens the eyes and the heart. Reading allows us to experience another person’s pain, sorrow, joy or triumph. Reading offers a window into the human spirit. We cannot lose that. We simply cannot.
© 2008 Shavawn M. Berry
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