Refine. Hone. Distill. The self is a text, too.
I know a lot of people who hate to read.
Some of the most imaginative, inspired (and inspirational) individuals I’ve ever met shake their heads and say, “Oh I hate reading; it’s so boring.” When someone tells me that books are too static an experience for them, it makes me wonder how I process each new story in which I immerse myself: devotion to worlds and characters, extensions of possibilities and parallel universes extrapolated into absurdity toward which I faithfully leap. Reading is such an active experience for me that it induces exhaustion.
Adults who read to me are certainly responsible, at least in part, for this phenomenon. Listening to another voice read a story exercised my imagination but also taught me a particular brand of patience and a way to extract meaning and pleasure. It is both a passive and an active pastime listening to someone read or tell a story. As an audience, you learn how to remain engaged without being called upon, how to remain immersed when the temptation to let your mind wander can be great. Years later, it helped me stay focused through the most boring prerequisites of undergrad and three-hour graduate classes at the end of a full day of work.
Clearly this aspect of my life has held serious sway over education and now profession. The way I feel about books — the joy of the written word — has directed much of the course of my life. I couldn’t edit if it weren’t that way. I couldn’t dedicate myself to someone else’s work with such devotion, such passion, without this history of reading and being read to. Article, blog, or book, when I read a piece from an author it’s me hearing them tell their story — whether their story is law review, how to do eco-friendly outdoor weddings, or a memoir spanning one man’s conversion from Nazism to Christianity.
Mr. M. H. Abrams (whose Norton Anthologies have lined my shelves since college) speaks for me when he says that literature “… expands you in every way. It illuminates what you’re doing. It shows you possibilities you haven’t thought of. It enables you to live the lives of other people than yourself. It broadens you, it makes you more human.”