By Andrea K. Hammer
As a girl, reading books was my salvation. In the house where I grew up, I could curl up in an over-sized living room chair and mentally travel to other worlds for fleeting hours. Nearby, my mother would also read or sew quietly; her mission was to instill a lifelong sense of inner contentment, which books quickly fed.
As the electronic world stole my patience to read books in recent years, my mother expressed her dismay. Like many in the electronic age, I was guilty of developing a shorter attention span and becoming a slave to the ever-present urgency of e-mail and continually breaking Internet news. Turning off the computer–and shutting my mind off for a good night’s sleep–became increasingly difficult.
The remedy? My mother urged me to shut down my computer earlier in the evening–and read a book. She spoke from personal experience.
When my mother’s golden years were tarnished after my father’s death, she discovered that books provided a rich source of “companionship.” Drawing sustenance in stories about other people and places, she has devoured books like potato chips during her retirement years.
Playing devil’s advocate, I asked her why reading a book is still important. “Why breathe?” she asked simply.
“Reading is food for thought; part of the excitement is that it makes you think and brings emotions alive. It’s exciting to discover new ideas.
“You relate to characters in books and develop a kinship with these people. You enter their world and gain a deeper understanding of what they’re thinking. Reading books makes you more empathetic to other people in the world when you encounter them in different situations….
“Then, there is just the pure joy of the written word–and all you feel from the author’s ability to express and paint pictures for you. The total satisfaction after completing a book is like having a wonderful meal.”
Connection With Other Readers
My mom also stressed that books help readers connect with other readers.
“After you’ve read a book, you’ve had a whole experience. If you’re fortunate to speak with others who’ve read the book, it’s always interesting to discuss and learn things you didn’t see,” she continued.
“Holding a book in your hand makes the story come alive. Otherwise, it’s like sitting and watching a movie, which has its attributes. But in reading the words, there’s an absorption. You feel the story deeper by reading the words, which is like eating and tasting food.”
Love Affair With Words
Beyond that, my mother expressed a love affair with words.
“Humorous ones offer relief, taking you away from your own life and stresses. Reading about others puts things in perspective and gives you courage to face your problems and the hope that you can solve them. Others’ stories make tackling challenges possible while taking away the fear of the unknown,” she said.
“Reading a book is a pleasurable way to spend one’s time. When a book grips you, it’s difficult to put it down. It’s like holding two lives–your own and another’s. You become so involved that you’re living vicariously and seeing how other choices might have played out.”
Through my mom’s contagious enthusiasm, I’ve rediscovered the pleasure of reading books again. A beautifully created physical work–from the size and shape of a book to the cover design and elegant fonts on specially selected paper–gives the story multiple dimensions.
I’ll always want to hold a carefully crafted book in my hands–exploring the pages to grasp the story’s full meaning.
* Adapted version of this essay about the value of reading books appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer.
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