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A teacher in our college days used to tell us repeatedly, ‘Read – Read – even if you read crap, it is still better than not reading’. We heeded his advice and read whatever we could lay our hands on. Fortunately, we also got to read some classics by the most acknowledged writers. My observation is that the higher literature revolves around characters and their lives. As life does not have a predictable plot, so are such books. They go where the characters go. The beauty and torture both lie in the characters. There are happy moments and sad times, and there are emotions all along. The authors portray characters in such a rich way that we live with them, love them, hate them, but still own them.
Understanding ourselves and others is a great gift of reading. Alain De Botton puts it this way. [quote] “We wouldn’t need books quite so much if everyone around us understood us well. But they don’t. Even those who love us get us wrong. They tell us who we are but miss things out. They claim to know what we need but forget to ask us properly first. They can’t understand what we feel – and sometimes we are unable to tell them, because we don’t really understand it ourselves. That’s where books come in. They explain us to ourselves and to others, and make us feel less strange, less isolated and less alone. We might have lot of good friends, but even with the best friends in the world, there are things that no one quite gets. That’s the moment to turn to books. They are friends waiting for us any time we want them, and they will always speak honestly yo us about what really matters. They are the perfect cure for loneliness. They can be our very closest friends. [unquote]
Rebecca Solnit is a powerful voice in the US whose essays boldly challenge the social and official coercion. This excerpt from her letter written to children is equally relevant for adults.[quote] Nearly every book has the same architecture — cover, spine, pages — but you open them onto worlds and gifts far beyond what paper and ink are, and on the inside, they are every shape and power. Some books are toolkits you take up to fix things, from the most practical to the most mysterious, from your house to your heart, or to make things, from cakes to ships. Some books are wings. Some are horses that run away with you. Some are parties to which you are invited, full of friends who are there even when you have no friends. In some books you meet one remarkable person; in others a whole group or even a culture. Some books are medicine, bitter but clarifying. Some books are puzzles, mazes, tangles, jungles. Some long books are journeys, and at the end you are not the same person you were at the beginning. Some are handheld lights you can shine on almost anything.
The books of my childhood were bricks, not for throwing but for building. I piled the books around me for protection and withdrew inside their battlements, building a tower in which I escaped my unhappy circumstances. There I lived for many years, in love with books, taking refuge in books, learning from books a strange data-rich out-of-date version of what it means to be human. Books gave me refuge. Or I built refuge out of them, out of these books that were both bricks and magical spells, protective spells I spun around myself. They can be doorways and ships and fortresses for anyone who loves them. And I grew up to write books, as I’d hoped, so I know that each of them is a gift a writer made for strangers, a gift I’ve given a few times and received so many times, every day since I was six. [unquote]
The upshot is that reading is among the most significant features of life, and reading must not be limited to educational books. It should be expanded much beyond. Through reading, we understand ourselves, those around us, our relations, our place in the world, our reason for being, our emotions, our rights, and our responsibilities.
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