Monday, July 4, 2011

On Reading Books

     I've spent many an hour motionless, happily reading books. For some people, taking the time to read a book is akin to being tied to a chair .To them, reading smacks of geekhood. It is an activity to be shunned. We are an image-oriented society, wary of words unless we use them to sell a product or send messages in the fractured language of e-mails.
      Nowadays a person can sit motionless in front of the computer, reading and chatting, and yet possess the contemplative ability of a nervous rabbit. The internet has given rise to a race of individuals who, inundated by factoids, cannot sit still long enough to consider their larger meaning because new factoids are springing up to distract their attention. Everything that comes from surfing the internet comes in bits and bytes. Everything that comes from the sustained, intelligent, reading of books can form the basis of an examined life.
      Reading, admittedly, can be a luxury. It is difficult to even think about reading the latest Le Carrè novel if you are looking for a job or are struggling to pay the rent. Questions of shelter and sustenance must be taken care of somehow before one is allowed the leisure to peruse the larger delights of Proust and Balzac. Blessed is he who, like Chekhov’s hero in “ The Bet”, has learned to spurn financial rewards for the higher pleasures of the mind obtained by reading books.The act of reading constitutes an escape into interior worlds where one forgets the harsh reality of the present. When we read a novel, we burrow into characters, living vicariously through them. Sometimes these characters can influence the shape of our personalities and the conduct of our lives. When we read a treatise, say by Aristotle or a contemporary piece in “The New Yorker”, our understanding of the world expands in relation to the effort we place into our reading. 

     The appearance of inaction when one reads a book, especially fiction, is deceptive, for , immersed in the world created by a writer, our minds are active and fully engaged in the trajectory of a plot and the nuances of the prose.
      To be immersed in a book is to be inured to the disappointments of life. To read a book is to learn to live through others, and thence, to be alive in this world.

PS: I wrote this short essay way back when Kindle and the iPad were not even glimmers in anybody's horizons. And there is the well-documented fact that very few people,  especially the young ones,  read books nowadays. Sad and worrisome.

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