I am currently reading Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens. I came across the following quotation,
“No one who can read, ever looks at a book, even unopened on a shelf, like one who cannot. “
Now this brings back memories and feelings of when I was very young. It was a time when I was able to read but not yet ready for long and complicated adult books. I stared at bookshelves in awe. Beefy tomes seemed a wonder to me. I think that I was on the cusp of the situation described in the above quotation, able to read sentences, simple paragraphs, maybe even short children’s books; but the big adult books were still out of my reach. Even then, there was an insatiable curiosity. There was a strong mystique to these objects called books. How could one collect so much knowledge between two covers? How could anyone absorb such voluminous intricate detail?
When I initially attempted to tackle such weighty works, history books at first, I more often than not did not finish them. Surprisingly, when school acquainted me with textbooks, I learned an important lesson. At the start of the year these textbooks appeared insurmountable. I learned, however, that slow progress, one week at a time, eventually yielded comprehensive results. Slow and steady wins the race!
Later, I did begin to read history books. For fiction, I began to devour what at the time I described as “serious science fiction”. Later still, this was not enough. There were other literary works beyond the science fiction genre that were just as important to explore, if not more so. Of course, reading critically was an important early lesson. As brilliant as some the minds behind some of these works were, I knew that I needed to really look hard at their ideas. Many of the messages in the early fiction that I read seemed incongruous with each other, as well as with what seemed true about life and with existence. Early religious instruction with its accompanying Bible readings also had an impact. Here was a combination of works that, even at the time, I sensed were immensely important. They reached into culture, morality and human emotion. I grasped some of their aesthetic beauty. These texts were filled with ideas; but I saw that these were a mix of good, in–between and bad ideas. Despite what so many others were telling me, as profound as these writings were, I concluded that they were not the definitive word on morality or the reality of existence. The same proved true of the ideas presented in many other books.
Throughout much of my early youth, I imagined the perfect adult who was constantly reading books of all types and taking in the collective knowledge of humanity. I think that this idealized grown-up helped shape me into the reader that I am today.
Sometimes, the sight of a book, even a book that I believe or know to be really good, seems very mundane and commonplace. At other times, I take another look and I once again feel the wonder and awe at just how much thought and beauty is contained within that very small space between two covers.