Key Thoughts

On Reading

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“We read to know that we are not alone” is a quote by C. S. Lewis, the author of many books including the Narnia series.

He’s right.

I grew up, like many in my generation, reading. Books had and still have a power over me. Growing up in France we didn’t have ready access to English books. Every summer, however, my parents would take us on vacation in England. We didn’t realize it at the time but my parents would secretly purchase a stack of books for each of us four kids and present them to us at Christmas. I probably couldn’t name more than two or three presents that I got for Christmas growing up but I still have fond memories of the Christmas stack of books we got each year.

Strange as it may seem, I still incorporate children’s books into the list of books that I read each year. Do yourself a favor and reread (because I’m certain that you’ve already read them, right?) the Narnia series, any or all of the Wizard of Oz books (did you know there are 14?), “The Wind in the Willows,” “A Wrinkle in Time,” “The Little Prince” or “The Borrowers.” Search for the best classic children’s books and work your way down the list. I promise you’ll thank me.

At the age of 12, while I was sick in bed, my mother went to the local library and found a copy of “The Martian Chronicles” by Ray Bradbury. It was life changing and I devoured everything I could find by Bradbury. I would later, quite by accident, end up living for several years in his hometown of Waukegan, Ill.

There are books that will change your life. Authors like Charles Dickens, Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, Victor Hugo, Graham Greene (read “The End of the Affair” if you haven’t read it yet), Dostoevsky and many others have written classics that are classics for a reason — namely that we connect with them on a deep level. They tell us something real about ourselves and about the world around us. Read or reread “The Great Gatsby,” “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Ivanhoe” or “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.”

It saddens me to see so few younger adults or children reading anymore. Books fuel the imagination and give us connection and community like nothing else. They develop in us emotional intelligence and empathy, something that is dearly needed more and more in the world today.

A recent Yale University study found that book readers live almost two years longer than non-book readers. Other studies have linked reading to a reduction in dementia risk, most likely because you’re exercising your brain.

“Fahrenheit 451,” by Bradbury, another life-changing book for me, told of a future where, instead of putting fires out, firemen start them by burning books. Burning or banning books doesn’t destroy them; on the contrary, it gives them more power, it gives them new life. When the Nazis burned books, people started hiding them and reading in secret. After the war, these books resurfaced stronger than ever. But it still goes on: A Florida school district tried to ban “Fahrenheit 451” as recently as 2018. A couple of years earlier, parents in Texas also tried, objecting to the book’s description of burning the Bible, rather missing the point.

Many are the books that are read by teenagers specifically because their parents forbade them (“The Catcher in the Rye”). Similarly many parishioners over the years have secretly purchased and read books specifically because the priest preached against the evils therein (“Valley of the Dolls”). Many books that are really not good literature only find a life because of the controversy surrounding them.

My fear isn’t that books will lose their power because they are burned or banned; my fear is that they will lose their power because we will lose interest and quit reading them. Then we really will be alone.

Rob Vajko lives near Wauna.


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