Wednesday, November 21, 2012

In Gratitude for the Books

What a thing it is when a child learns to read! When they first associate letter and sound, when they tentatively string the phonemes together and a stumbling word emerges - a word they have utilized in speech for years past, a word that is already imbued with meaning in their heretofore circumscribed world.
And it is at this moment, as understanding dawns, in that magical instant when stapled rectangles of ink-darkened paper become something more; the hitherto strange and alien cipher relinquishes its meaning and innumerable universes open up like petals of a night flower to the immensity of the stars.

The child's world, which has been long embellished with obscure and mysterious symbols, adorning road signs and cereal boxes, becomes something transcendent; and instead of one life, one path (the fate that awaits non-readers) the child becomes an early traveler. Venturing through time and space, learning, absorbing, and wondering; the realization that an immensity of meaningful worlds are encapsulated between the tattered covers of  novels. Books are imbued with magic; they contain the transformative power to incite revolution, to sway and influence: a conveyance of alternative perspective, a vehicle of many truths, the physical manifestation of intense thought.

It is my opinion that the truly great writers are indubitably voracious readers; it is in that subtle dynamic interplay between written narrative and sensory reception. A writer's words are exhaled from the page in a delicate mist, a gossamer tendril of another world that envelops the reader in an imaginative cocoon. The voice of the writer is a whisper in our head, transcending time and space, with literary skill that lingers in our imagination like the fading echo of an exquisitely haunting musical phrase. The words hum and resonate with a vibrancy of something alive, shifting and morphing into something greater than the sum of their parts. The simple sequence of letters is cognitively transformed into the imaginative painting which arcs across the inside of our minds.

One forms bonds with paper-born characters, in a fabricated world interwoven with words and threaded together by thoughts. They emerge from the hazy mists of our mental landscape like a hallucinogenic phantasm, more vibrantly alive than one would have thought possible, and with whom we feel and fear, their heartbeat our own. It is a feat born of magic indeed! Taking the geometric linearity of letters, the sharp punctuation of line, the unequivocal rigidity of consensual alphabetic form and evoking an ethereal landscape within the confines of mind; from stark unvarying form to poetic ether. This is the dazzling beauty of language into which the child is ushered.

It is a powerful thing to be a reader. We are presented with numerous gifts of perspective: visualizing the familiar in strange new ways, and broadening our understanding of that which we have little experience.  While our bodies are confined and constrained, destined to occupy a limited physical space, our consciousness soars upwards in the vast expanse where all things are possible;  the murmured narrative of each new book sighs secrets, discloses thoughts and ideas in the hushed darkness of our minds that we too have entertained. There is a vague recognition of things dimly perceived that only now with this writer, with this book, have been brought into bright relief. One is seized by a thought, captured by an image painted in words, and the connective wisp is established between writer and reader like conversations passed between us in the dark. For we are not merely passive receptacles of the phrase, but we engage with the books that we read, our very selves are altered, our perspective enhanced in a multitude of subtle ways. Victor Hugo declared that "to learn to read is to light a fire; every syllable that is spelled out is a spark." To light that flame for a child, to engender and nourish the sparks that will enable their own limitless explorations... what could be a greater gift?


  1. PJ, in support of your fine article, I am providing additional quotes about reading and writing. - Shari

    “I have a passion for teaching kids to become readers, to become comfortable with a book, not daunted. Books shouldn't be daunting, they should be funny, exciting and wonderful; and learning to be a reader gives a terrific advantage.”
    ― Roald Dahl

    “Indeed, learning to write may be part of learning to read. For all I know, writing comes out of a superior devotion to reading.”
    ― Eudora Welty, On Writing

    “Oh, magic hour, when a child first knows she can read printed words.”
    ― Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

    1. Oh lovely lovely contribution!!!! thank you so much Shari, thoroughly enjoyed these delicious tidbits!

  2. PJ,in my childhood we only had books and the radio. I grew up feeding on Dumas, Salgari, Stevenson, Lagerloff, and many others. My home nearly collapsed under the weight of our bookcases, since my mom was a writer and my dad -for a short time- a publisher.
    Mom decided that I shouldn't read this or that book, on the grounds that I was too young. It goes without saying that the minute she was out the door I made a beeline for the forbidden book.
    Mom was right; I understood them differently in later rereads, but the surface levels, particularly the words, stuck with me.
    I doubt it if I'd have ever tried my wings at writing had I not read so much in unknowing preparation.
    So thank you for your delicious article, which I've shared on FB and Twitter for others to stop by.
    In admiration always,

    1. Yes Marta - I too had my nose perpetually buried in books...and as you express so beautifully - it was in unknowing preparation! And it is precisely these classics that I find myself returning to again and again - and with each read, from different perspective of acquired age and experience, I gain something new, something different. Thank you for your most kind comment!

  3. Beautifully written and very inspiring! Such a talent will take you far - you have such a way with words :)

    1. Thank you so very much for your visit, and your most kind comment. They are both greatly appreciated indeed!