I remember walking home from the bookmobile one spring day in 1980. I had three novels stacked in my arms, one of which was a one volume set of When Worlds Collide and After Worlds Collide. Indeed, I was heavy laden. My best friend and fellow Navy Brat, Doug Stephenson, saw me coming and said, “You’re going to read those for fun?” Despite my odd behavior, Doug and I remained friends until my dad was transferred.
Such was my childhood. My happiest moments were those where I was surrounded by books. The musty library at the Yorktown Naval Weapons Station became a bit of a haunt for me. It’s where I discovered such gems as Fred Bear’s Field Notes. I still dream of spike camps in the Northwest Territories, where I’d chase caribou with only a recurve bow and wooden arrows.
I didn’t know that I was unusual. Surely, everyone enjoyed a good Saturday night in bed with a Stephen King novel. What else was there to do? But I was different. Not an oddity, so much. Many of us read as children. Apparently, many still do, given the success of J.K. Rowling and Suzanne Collins.
Reading, to me, has always been preferable to movies or television. Sure, I enjoy a good movie or TV program, but I find that my mind is rarely engaged in those occupations. I’m simply soaking it in. Mind you, sometimes I need to shut down. Shows like Seinfeld were brutally honest in their claim that they were a “show about nothing.” We were given permission to turn off the brain and just laugh. Or cry.
But reading activates the brain. When an author describes a scene, an emotion, or an action, she’s given only a few lines or paragraphs to do so. The reader must do the work of taking the words and envisioning the scenes. The same passage can be read by one million readers and no two will envision the same scene. It’s as if the author wrote a different story for each individual. And that’s the magic.
Reading, above all other mediums, channels that part of the brain that formulates our thoughts and behavior for the rest of our lives. No two readers can think or behave the same, because, along with our environment and genealogy, we’ve been influenced by thousands of books. And even if we read the same books, we’d come away with different conclusions.
Reading, my friends, creates the unique individual. If mankind forms a tapestry then it is the written word pulling the thread.
The Bible, without doubt, is the most influential book in the history of mankind. Billions adore it while billions also despise it. Any man or woman who has read it multiple times will come away with a different bit of information with each reading. Truly, we can select a single passage and draw multiple conclusions, a new thought each day. Men and women spend years studying theology, yet no two of them will interpret this one book the same way. I’ve often referred to the Bible as “the never ending story.”
That’s the beauty of reading. Ironically, the fewer words used to express an idea, the more freedom the reader is given to turn the story into his own. The words form the lines of the picture. The reader is given an infinite palette of colors to fill them in.
This is why I started the 52 Books Challenge. I have no desire to promote any particular books or genre. Fiction or non-fiction, it is all the same. Because it is all different to each reader. What I may see as nonsense, one of you may glean great understanding. And vice-versa. If I–if we–can encourage more of our friends and family to read, we are, in fact, building individuals. Building them to something far greater than they had ever imagined. We are selfish in our intentions, because what we seek is a richer society for ourselves. But that’s okay. If you suspect that I’d prefer a conversation about The Grapes of Wrath to one about today’s football game, I am guilty as charged.
Join us at the 52 Books facebook page. We encourage each other to read a book per week. And we have great fun discussing what we’ve read. Authors are invited to promote their books on my blog every Monday. Just drop me an e-mail at email@example.com. Be sure to check in at my blog, Ron Estrada Books, every week for author intros and some book give-aways.
We have, in this day of the information superhighway, more opportunity to absorb art and knowledge than ever before. To waste it would be a crime. Now go. Grab a book and a friend. Build a world together.