My earliest memories are of my mother and father reading to me, before I learned how to read for myself. Dad, having raised my two sisters ahead of me, would read the same stories and Mother Goose rhymes that he’d read many times already, and he would sometimes close his eyes and nod off, without skipping any words. I would say, “Open your eyes, Dad,” and he would do that, and never miss a beat. He or Mom did this for me every night before bedtime.
When I see illustrations like the one with this article, I understand so much about myself and others, and why I am who I am. My parents gave me, my brother, and my sisters a priceless gift, not only of reading to me, but the gift of their time.
I recently spoke about this with my sister, who told me something I’d never heard before. Our maternal grandmother used to describe how she would go shopping with my mother, and how Mom looked at dresses, or shoes, or necklaces, but would come home instead with books to read to us kids.
The gift of reading is priceless, and my parents gave it to me freely. I cannot imagine a time when I didn’t read, or understand how to read. OK, so I’m a bookworm. I have been one all my life, and I’m not ashamed of it in the least. I love books. I still have some of my textbooks from high school and college. Since I was born just six years after the end of World War Two, it’s a pretty amazing collection, and I’m very proud of it.
Every so often, I’ll open my Norton Anthology of English Literature or my Complete Works of William Shakespeare, and I’ll find notes I made to myself in the margins. It’s like traveling in a time machine. Instantly, I’m back in the classroom, eighteen or nineteen years old, listening to my favorite teachers pointing out how James Joyce wrote an entire chapter describing the turns a character from Ulysses took while walking one day in Dublin. If you look at that city on a map, that teacher said, you’ll find that all the turns put together illustrate a question mark. Amazing people, these authors!
Now, when I see statistics about how few people read any more, it makes me sad, and it frightens me. People who don’t read don’t think. Or if they do think, they don’t do it very well. Thinking critically is the most important skill Homo Sapiens has developed over millions of years. It separates us from the rest of the animals. If we don’t read, and we can’t think critically, we open ourselves to being manipulated. Dominated. We become the victims of any demigod with a message that sounds like what we want to hear.
Read. Read newspapers, books, articles, whether on paper or online. Reading is too important to neglect. Reading inspires thinking, and thinking is vital to survival. If you don’t want to become someone’s slave, if you don’t want “someone else” to make all your decisions for you, you must read every day.
Read writers you agree with. Read writers you don’t agree with. It’s not too late to try. As you read, ask, “Why does this person believe this?” Ask, “Who says so? Since when?” “What does someone else have to say about it?”
The alternative is slavery.