Today, with the ongoing barrage of terrible news of every kind from far and near, I scrapped my planned discussion post to address this burning question. Why, with all the other worthy causes that could claim my time and attention, do I spend time on reading, and on writing about reading? On books that take me away from the everyday world and the present moment? Isn’t it frivolous and selfish?
On a certain level it is, and it does make me feel guilty sometimes. Sometimes I just want to escape into a world where I don’t have to think about real problems, mine or others’. I want the safety of the imagination, where I have some measure of control, where I can stop reading if things get too dark or frightening.
But on another level, I’ve always been convinced that reading can be a path of development, a way of making ourselves more human. It connects us to the creative spark that lights up within another human being, that in turn connects us with something bigger than ourselves. If we really engage with what we’re reading, really wrestle with its meaning and purpose, then we may learn some small lesson that can help us to deal with the problems that confront us in everyday life. This can happen, I hold, even with literature that doesn’t overtly aim to address great and weighty issues. In every honestly creative act, I believe, there is a seed of the divine that waits to be brought to life through its reception in another mind and heart. Reading, rightly done, is a life-giving act, and we need all the life we can muster against the destruction that rages around us.
And in a dark and frightening world, there is a place for holding up the candle of joy and delight. This too is part of being human, and can be one of the greatest acts of courage of all.
It’s with all humility, and the knowledge that I’ve never truly been personally tested by adversity, that I write these words. I know that any contribution I make to the creative purpose of the world is very, very small. But it’s a contribution I can make, and that I try to make through the existence of this blog. Thank you for being here, and for holding up your own candle, whatever it may be.
What does reading mean to you? Can it make a difference in the world?