Reading has been a natural part of my world from the time I was born. I cannot recall a single day when my father did not spend many hours combing the pages of the newspaper and his vast collection of books. He often read to me as though I were a miniature adult and explained what the stories meant if I was too young to fully understand them. Likewise my grandfather was a devotee to reading who thought that there was no grander gift for any occasion than a book. After my father died our family had less funding for purchasing volumes to be kept for all time so my mother took us on weekly excursions to a library near the old Palms Center Mall. Holidays, summertime and car trips meant enjoying the luxury of reading for hours, a pastime that I adored.
I saw a recent article about an Icelandic Christmas tradition that sounds quite lovely to me. Family members exchange books with one another on Christmas Eve and then spend the evening reading and sipping on hot chocolate. No other place on earth has a higher per capita consumption of books than Iceland because of this custom and book stores there sell countless volumes from September to December in anticipation of the event.
I think I might enjoy living among people who garner such pleasure from reading. I find books to be the perfect gift and like my father and grandfather I can’t seem to get enough of them. Such is not the case with everyone. There are children whose families are economically challenged who are lucky to even see a book before they begin their formal educations. Such little ones are already behind their peers whose parents have been reading to them from infancy. It is often difficult for them to ever catch up, resulting in continuation of a cycle of poverty and lack of education from one generation to another.
When I was teaching underserved students I realized that few of them had access to newspapers, magazines or family libraries. They rarely saw their parents reading and so it did not become an enjoyable habit for them. Often when I brought nice books for them to borrow I would never see them again and in my mind I hoped that they were being treasured by the students who had slipped away with them. If I had been blessed with wealth I would have regularly purchased volumes for them to keep.
I recently read a story about Dolly Parton and her efforts to encourage children from underprivileged homes to read and further their educations. When she realized that little ones from the area where she grew up had mostly never seen a book before arriving to kindergarten she began a process of sending each child a new book each month from the time of birth until they enrolled in school. The program was so successful that Dolly has expanded it to places all over the world and has even written several children’s books of her own to tell youngsters how valuable reading is for everyone.
Former First Lady Barbara Bush became a lifelong literacy advocate, chairing a foundation dedicated to getting books to children. Her important work has made a difference in the lives of countless little ones and continues even after her death.
I know how much difference reading has made in my own life. Rarely a day goes by that I do not take time to read about the news, contemplate editorials or turn the pages of a new bestseller or an old classic. The written word is magical for me and it keeps my mind active even as I age. Books and articles are like friends that I can invite into my world any time I wish and with the pandemic they have kept me feeling connected even as I spend my days and weeks and months anchored to my home.
I have a Kindle that my daughters purchased for me several years ago. It is first generation ebook technology that works just fine for me. I am able to instantly bring a new work into my home without ever leaving or waiting for a delivery. My Kindle even saves my place when my eyes become weary and I stop my reading for the day. It’s compact for travel and works well on a plane as long as I have already downloaded my choices. It has brought me great joy time and again but I have to admit that some books are so good that I end up purchasing them in hard copy just because I want to have them forever.
A real book appeals to all of my senses. I like the feel of the paper and the binding on the fingertips. My eyes delight in the colors and I am able to flip back and forth to particular passages or images. I feel free to write little notes to myself in the margins or underline words and phrases that appeal to me. There is even a smell of paper and ink that spins magic in my head, so I suppose that I will always favor a real book or an electronic one, especially if was a gift from a friend and holds a special inscription that forever reminds me of that special person.
In so many ways books are living breathing bearers of knowledge and delight. They are the gifts that keep on giving again and again. They bring the world into our minds no matter whether they are leather bound first editions, paperbacks or electronic. They are purveyors of joy that never disappoint us or leave us feeling alone.