Image from Shelf Awareness
To read…what a gift.
Those funny black squiggles–do you remember when they turned into meaning? Turned into tiny keys that flew off the page and unlocked doors in your mind? There’s a magic moment, in a child’s life–the moment when she realizes the words she has memorized, those mysterious patterns, have life and heft and individual meaning. They leap at her, they draw him in: those children have entered the league of readers.
It’s a league of connection…for behind those hidden doors in our minds, whole worlds wait. Rowlings writes about Hogwarts, and we soak in her words, but the academy is already there. Rowlings’ words just open the door. Who knew that unwieldy castle lived within us, those gray and rickety stairwells, those lonely creaking hallways? We explore, with Harry, Hermione, and Ron, the terrain discovered in our minds.
We uncover whole continents of mind territory: with hobbit holes and desert sand, vast and churning oceans, frozen ‘scapes that roll on, whitely, as far as our interior eyes can see. All those places of wonder have been there, waiting, waiting for us to find the right keys and gain entry.
And people! We discover people, too, and joy in the recognition when their miens float clear. There’s that kind and thoughtful wizard, his gray eyes sad and gentle in a face wrinkled with care and hard-won knowledge. And that exquisitely beautiful maiden–look how her cornflower eyes grow cold and distant when she’s crossed–there’s lightning there, and danger. Beauty, we discover, does not always extend all the way to the heart.
There’s a jolly fat fellow straining the bounds of his black and white knit jersey; there’s a gentle grandmotherly type dispensing cocoa and concern.
And there–there is a freckled mischievous boy whose penchant for noodling in to places he shouldn’t be churns up all kinds of trouble. There’s a plain but stalwart girl whose perseverance and quick wit saves the day.
These are people in the Troupe Within; some of them are folks we want to be. Some are folks we want to flee. All are the characters we need to be able to inhabit the stories we love.
And we move, as we grow and we get more adept, from the land of story to the land of truth; we encounter Anne Frank and we read with her, our roving now in an attic where dust motes dance behind a brazen bookcase. We know what has to come, yet we read on, borrowing Anne’s eyes, learning about the darkness that can exist in man.
We struggle with explorers and we suffer with reformers; we sense the hunger of the people in the drought-ridden region, even when that kind of pain never touches our physical lives. We mourn with Annie Sullivan when that little brother dies. Real words, heart-felt words, open our hearts, expand our compassion, ignite those banked fires of outrage and indignation.
We are readers, and we travel, not just in geographic realms, but in emotional ones.
We encounter printed word wherever we go–in the newspaper, in the classroom, on the Internet. Not all of it soars and ignites–some words create a plodding, necessary swamp that tires us.
We slog on, through those words, the thick and viscous ones, knowing there are others that will come after–words that will lift us into the realms of soft breezes, tantalizing tunes, soaring wonder.
We find our favorites, wordsmiths whose writing always hits that ‘ping’ in our own minds–it might be Tolkien for you, Lamott for her, a favorite columnist, a graphic novelist–whomever, that artist, that writer, that comic or that thinker,–that person, we know, will have words that slide into the locks, snick them open cleanly, take us into those rich, intriguing regions of our own minds. We seek those artists out, again and again.
Reading, some folks say, becomes our escape, but really it’s a journey, an exploration, a march… We are moving as we read, we are growing. The book drops, opened, onto the coverlet as we fall asleep; our kind one comes and sets it aside for us, turns off the bedside light, but still our mind ranges in that region opened by the words we read. Reading may take us away from our everyday for a while, but we come back richer, wiser, a little more ready to face the day.
And we share it, of course: what greater joy than to read a book to a child, to be one who demonstrates how those words, well-chosen, well-played, can spring the stuck doorways and call whole worlds to light in that young and questing mind? Meet Milo, we say, and Tock–Here: do you know Caspian? Chrysanthemum? Have you, perchance, met Frodo?
And if we have chosen well, and if we have read with fervor and with zest, we get to watch the miracle happen, the words, falling like water on dry but fertile landscape. The moments of absorption. The wonder of the blooms.
The magical day comes when that little person reads to us–what a joyful circle of completion.
February, Shelf Awareness tells me, is the month of love of reading. It’s a month of magic, then, a treasure-month that, opened, holds a whole Pandora’s box of love and terror, soaring joy and grounding reality. So stack them up, the books to read: the light and frothy novels that cleanse the palate, the thoughtful well-researched tomes that exercise our mental muscles. Bring on the book that guides and advises, the book that brings wonder and revelation. Turn on the lamp and turn the page.
Bring on the inundation of words, the celebration of those funny little keys that unlock the treasures of our minds. It’s the month of reading: as if we needed an excuse. Happy February, my friends!