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THE MAGIC OF READING
Ah, Fall, and then Winter! What wonderful seasons to curl up with a good book and lovingly caress the words as they make their way from its pages to the innermost recesses of my soul. Whether in bed snuggled up against the howl of the arctic blast shuddering the house, or by a crackling fire with a mug of hot chocolate as cold autumn rains fall, or beside a picture window looking out across the virgin snow, reading is a pleasure that begs for the return of cold weather and short days. "To sit alone in the lamplight with a book spread out before you, and hold intimate conversations with men of unseen generations such is a pleasure beyond compare," Kenko Yoshida said in the Fourteenth Century.
A world of magic engulfs the practice of reading to a degree even wider than the art of daydreaming. In daydreaming, we are limited by the breadth of our own mind. In reading we can enfold into our universe the minds and dreams of every woman and man who have ever set their pens to paper. I must confess that I love to spend time with such companions. In my years I have spoken with the great minds in fields ranging from particle physics to theology and back again. I have listened to the great story tellers Homer, James Fenimore Cooper, James A. Michener, Robert Service and J.R. Tolkein and laughed at the wit of the humourists Will Rogers, Mark Twain and Richard Armour. I have visited the homes of Edwin Way Teale and Helen and Scott Nearing and travelled to the four corners of the earth with Sigurd Olsen, Lowell Thomas, Charles Kuralt, Thor Heyerdahl and Edmund Hillary. I have sat before Plato and Lao Tse and Jesus, absorbing their timeless wisdom and conversed with Marilyn Ferguson, Gail Sheehy and John Ralston Saul on the concerns of our changing society. With these and many others I have shared my lifetime.
I was deep in thoughtful discussion the other day with Thomas Moore through his book The Re-Enchantment of Everyday Life. Moore and I share many commonalities in our love for books and reading. Both our houses are filled with books, which have made moves from house to house difficult. We have both taken such times to thin the ranks of our library, as he puts it, "in an attack of monkish simplicity, " and we both have later regretted the act. The reason: "any book might offer just one thread in the tapestry of understanding, and that one thought or image is worth the poundage and price of a book."
Moore continued, "for there is something about the mere existence of a book on the shelf that makes it a treasure and helps enchant one's life and home." He reminded me: "Turning to the first page of any book is a ritual act, like going through the door of a cathedral or walking into a concert hall." Moore remarked that a book is more than its text, for it has a special, magical presence. We agreed that there are some books on our shelves that we love to see, like an old friend, but which we may never again read from cover to cover. For me, looking at their defining spines and dust jackets awakens memories of their words once spoken to me, and that is enough to give me pleasure.
Enchantment, that is what is in reading. Moore defines enchantment as "a spell that comes over us, an aura of fantasy and emotion that can settle on the heart and either disturb it or send it into rapture and reverie." He further states that "an enchanted life has many moments when the heart is overwhelmed by beauty and the imagination is electrified....The soul has an absolute, unforgiving need for regular excursions into enchantment." Is this not the life that reading opens to us? A Life of Enchantment? Are not books and other reading materials the media that conjure that spell? "Some enchanted evening, you may see a stranger..." Or so the song goes. For me that stranger has generally been a new book, beckoning me to take it into my hands and enter its world.
For example, I must confess that I love to travel. I also confess that I hate to travel. A contradiction? Not when you travel by books. Travelling through books is not hampered by late transportation, soft and lumpy beds, or unforeseen weather hiding the mountain's peak. And my curiosity of new worlds has lead me to places my body could never go: to the future worlds of science fiction; to the distant worlds of black holes and supernovas; to past worlds when dinosaurs or Romans ruled, to the spirit world and to worlds of imagination. Where am I going today: to Tibet to see the Dalai Lama, to the Crystal Cave of Merlin or the studio of Da Vinci; to the backrooms of the White House or the Court of St. James; to the jungles of Indonesia or the coral reefs of Australia? From within a voice chants, "Come," and you follow.
Still not sure that reading is magical? Then think back to the first time that you were able to pick up a book of your choice and read it on your own. What power! What freedom! No longer did Mom or Dad or the teacher have to read to you. You were now independent in a way even greater than the ability to walk. Animals can walk; you could READ!
And what of the book itself? "A truly good book is something as wildly natural and primitive, mysterious and marvellous, ambrosial and fertile, as a fungus or a lichen," wrote Henry David Thoreau. You see, a book is more than text and pictures, coloured ink on a white page. It has a life and presence which is magical. In our present Age of Information, we tend to think of books as the keepers of facts, mass-produced volumes which quickly fall out of commerical favour and onto the remainder table. We miss the power of the hand-written and illustrated books of the days before Gutenberg. Or the early printed books when type was still set by hand and bindings were as much a work of art as the words on the pages within. There is, however, a deeper power that transcends the physical appearance. It speaks to each of us differently.
To illustrate the point, I suggest you go to the local library or one of the larger bookstores. Wander around the aisles and look at the books without focusing on the subject matter or author. Within a relatively short period of time assuming your mind is open and not distracted by other matters one of those books will call to you to examine it further. Pick it up. Study its cover and title. Open it randomly and read a paragraph or two. What are you feeling, thinking or having opinions about at this time? If nothing further happens, replace the volume and continue your wandering. I am willing to bet that within an hour, at least one book will seduce you into taking it home.
Again quoting Moore: "The magic of books and words may bypass the mind altogether and affect the soul, whose interests focus more around eros and mystery." In such a way we move from reading for information to reading for transcendence from the mundane world.
"Consider what you have in the smallest chosen library: a company of the wisest and wittiest men that could be picked out of all civil countries in a thousand years. The thought which they did not uncover to their bosom friend is here written out in transparent words to us, the strangers of another age," wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson. But my library is more than the meeting place for the wisest and wittiest. My library is also my place of solitude, a sanctuary against the clamour and demands of the outside world, a place where I can meet my mentors for discussions and direction. Surrounded by my books I have a sense of peace that can relieve daily tensions and frustrations far better than any pill.
"Reading supplies bread for imagination to feed on, and bones for it to chew on," wrote Alex Osborn. Reading allows you to soar with the eagles by removing the restrictions of the physical world from your soul. And that, my friend, is magic.
THE MAGIC OF READING by Keith C. Heidorn, PhD . ©1999, All Rights Reserved.
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