If I were a character in a dystopian novel, I would find out where the books are. This would be a wise move for several reasons. Books are knowledge, and knowledge is power. Power can overthrow systems, and it is ideas that change the world. A collected library would tell of how the world was in the past and how that past wrought the uncertain present. There would most likely be bans on reading (à la Fahrenheit 451), but I think what societies ban tells a lot about their values.
Growing up I always loved reading. I loved being able to enter another world as easily as walking through a wardrobe into Narnia. Rather than make real life dull in comparison to books, I think the books I read gave real life an extra touch of adventure, a tiny bit of magic.
I don’t know what happened exactly, but I somehow got out of the habit of reading. I blame university in part; with all the mounds of required reading, there was always something academic to be working on, making pleasure reading…well…a guilty pleasure. After graduation, the habit never really came back on a permanent basis. My other culprit is the Internet. I have become so accustomed to instantaneous responses to my questions that reading a more slowly paced, albeit well developed, story sometimes tries my patience.
But these two are scapegoats only, because the real culprit is myself. Habits can be relearned, attention spans can stretch. I know that I have lost something valuable and I want to gain it back. I still believe in the power of the written word. I still believe in the beauty of stories. And I fear that by not reading, I am not thinking. I worry that I have turned off my brain to blindly swallow the lies the media spoon-feeds us every day. Reading creates better critical thinking skills and a better understanding of how words are used…or manipulated. It preserves our minds.
I know it can’t happen all at once, but I want to learn how to read again, to consume a story like a fine glass of wine, slowly and with anticipation. I want to regain the part of myself that I have lost.
Readers, what are some of your favorite stories?