To Reading Great Books & Living Several Lives

“Books are surviving in this intense, fragmented, hyper-accelerated present, and my sense and hope is that things will slow down again and people will want more time for a contemplative life. There is no way people can keep up this pace. No one is happy. Two or three hours to read should not be an unattainable thing…”

– Author Junot Diaz, in an interview with The Guardian

I’ve written about how my love affair with words started. I’ve expressed stories of how I used to climb onto my grandmother’s lap in her crimson, plush armchair and harass her into reading me the same tattered copy of Lady & The Tramp over and over and over again. I currently have 155+ titles on a list marked as “to-read,” and it continues to grow every. single. day. If you were to ask me what my ideal afternoon looked like, I would immediately daydream about being curled up somewhere (read: anywhere) with a book held open in my hands. (Don’t act like any of this surprises you.)

So when that lovely quote from Junot Diaz popped up in my inbox the other day, it immediately sent me reeling. Because I share Diaz’s belief that 2-3 hours of reading should not be unattainable, and that my ideal world involves a larger band of people who believe in the power of storytelling and the benefits of reading printed works.

I’m not blind to the fact that we live in a digital age, that I can download literature classics in my iBooks app for free, that e-book sales have increased over the past year, that a new e-reader comes out every few months. Nor am I troubled by this movement; I dive into the growth and expansion of new technologies along with so many others, for it is a very exciting world we live in. But there is a tiny piece of me that fears for the–hopefully–way, way, distant future.

This piece of me fears that the experience of reading will change too drastically, that e-books and e-readers will take over the mystifying effects of libraries and small bookstores, that my children will grow up reading with a Kindle or Nook in their hands rather than the feel of a paperback with pages turned between their fingertips. I’m in fear that their intake of the Harry Potter series, which I sometimes read late into the night in the pitch black of my bedroom with a flashlight in hand, will be satisfied through Pottermore, which, while an exciting and enthralling adventure of its own accord, would leave little room for their own imaginations. I’m in fear that they’ll one day simply opt for the movie versions of HolesAlice in Wonderland, and How To Eat Fried Worms, because it’s “easier” to watch a 2-hour film than sit and read one hundred pages. I fear that my set of The Chronicles of Narnia will grow to collect dust, because they’d rather be enamored with lions, witches, and wardrobes on a big screen than in the pages of a novel.

But overall, I fear the demise of the imagination. Of the ability to follow along with the carefully crafted lines of Meg Cabot and imagine a frizzy-haired teenage girl being transformed into a princess. Or picturing a boy who never grows up teaching other children to fly in their London bedroom solely on the energy of magical thoughts. Or vividly watching the climactic battle of spells between He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named and The Boy Who Lived behind your closed eyelids while the hardcover trembles in your eager hands. This is what they’d be missing out on the most.

So to the gangs of people who understand what it’s like to not be able to put a book down, here’s to hoping. Here’s to encouraging generations to come that reading is where it’s at, that the worlds you imagine from the pages of a book are worthwhile. Here’s to reliving our childhoods and getting lost in the lives of characters. Here’s to continuing to constantly explore through written words.

This post is written in honor of Read A Book Day (September 6) and International Literacy Day (September 8); to celebrate, all I ask is that you go read a physical, printed book. Normally, I would express that reading anything (a magazine, a newspaper article, blog posts) is better than reading nothing at all, but not. today. Click off from the internet. Put away your tablet. Pull a deserving book off of the shelf and open. it. up. Let the pages turn in your hand and let your mind wander through its words. Take Junot Diaz’s advice: get lost for two or three hours with a good story and your imagination.

“A great book should leave you with many experiences, and slightly exhausted at the end. You live several lives while reading.”

– William Styron, Author

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