Fresh Ideas: So many books, so little time
“What are you reading?” That’s how many conversations between Will Schwalbe and his mother, Mary Anne, began. Schwalbe’s moving memoir, “The End of Your Life Book Club,” lovingly details the books they read and discussed during the last two years of Mary Anne’s life. She knew she was dying and wanted to squeeze in as much life and as many books as she could.
While I’m not dying, I hear the clock ticking. You see, I am a little behind in my reading. Fifty years behind. I’ve been trying to catch up since second grade, when frequent bouts of tonsillitis and ear infections caused me to miss as many days as I attended. Later came the required reading of high school and college. Then I had children, went back to school and started teaching. Years went by in which I read only professional journals or Dr. Seuss.
Now I’m making up for lost time. I have half a dozen e-books on my Kindle awaiting my attention and many more actual books stashed around the house. I read everything that strikes my fancy — fiction, nonfiction (especially memoir), humor, magazines, newspapers. Even poetry.
Why? Perspective. As someone who enjoyed a happily sheltered childhood and a relatively conventional life, I find that books offer me a chance to see the world through the prism of another time and place.
Moreover, while reading may look like a solitary activity, it allows me to explore another person’s mind. Authors and characters connect with me in a way that I can only describe as intimate and profound. They change my worldview. Struggle and triumph, hope and despair, pain and pleasure, love and loss are universal experiences. Through books, I discover we humans are more alike than different. I learn empathy. As C.S. Lewis wrote, “We read to know that we are not alone.”
The retired teacher in me compels me to point out that reading is much more than an idle pastime. Stephen Krashen, professor emeritus at the University of Southern California, says, “… those who do more recreational reading show better development in reading, writing, grammar and vocabulary.” This holds true for children, adults and second-language learners. Research shows that children who spend more time reading books of their own choosing score better on tests. Reading is good for us, like brushing our teeth, breathing fresh air and getting a good night’s sleep.
Certainly, all our lives are too full. We will never do all there is to do, never read all there is to read. On the other hand, reading is not doing nothing. Mary Anne Schwalbe believed, “Reading isn’t the opposite of doing; it’s the opposite of dying.”
Yes, I’ll get back to the weeding, just as soon as I finish this chapter.
Lorie Schaefer is retired, mostly.