Reading. One of my favorite activities, and one that has followed me through my life. Perhaps one day I’ll write about my life through the various books I’ve read because it’s a fun and fascinating journey. What is your experience with reading? As always, if you choose to take up the challenge, please add a pingback to this prompt.
I’m leafing through the pages of an old, outdated textbook, not paying attention to what I’m doing. Words on the page. Page after page. So many words. How many of these words actually matter? How many of these words build meaning and insight? Perception and critical thinking?
When I was a child, my parents read to me nearly every day. Those early moments with books instilled in me a love of reading before I could even read, back before we could get information from anything but books and magazines and newspapers and journals. And an hour a day of television news—30 minutes of local news followed by 30 minutes of national news. If you wanted substance, you had to read—books, encyclopedias, newspapers—often on microfiche. You had to read.
And so I did. I spent hours at the local library, first in the spacious children’s room and then in the little pass-through room that housed the teen books, before they were classified “YA.” It was a small room—an in-between space for those who were no longer children but not quite adults. Then we moved on to the general book stacks which filled a large back area. My younger days were loaded with books.
There are some books I remember vividly—scenes and characters. Things that happened and the way I felt when I was reading. Some were silly, like Pippi Longstocking. Others were deep and sorrowful—Across Five Aprils comes to mind. There were some books that were just okay and some I barely remember.
Then there were the magazines, the articles, the newspapers, the long days spent deep in research for paper after paper as I learned how to distinguish fact from fiction. I learned to parse words, sentences, and paragraphs. I analyzed text for the important elements so I could use these to create impact in my own writing. I learned to take the ideas of others and weave them together with my own to build and support an argument so I could discuss topics more deeply with others.
As I leaf through this old textbook, and I stare at the words, I don’t really have to wonder how many of the words matter. How many of them build meaning and help develop critical thinking. I already know the answer.
The answer is all of them. All the words I’ve ever read—they matter. They taught me how to distinguish the good texts from the bad. They taught me to move beyond the fluff to the depths of the text. They taught me to dig deep, to find meaning, and to persevere.
But the most important thing words taught me? How to make magic. When you pick up a book, study all the black squiggles on the white page, and produce a mind full of colorful images and vivid stories, fascinating characters and music and laughter and a full range of emotions, you realize reading is truly a magical experience.