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Books Are Passports
A good book can take you places an airplane cannot
“I have a passport to a far better age,
As close as the bookshelf, as near as a page” — William Schweikert, 1984
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You like to read, right?
Well of course you do. Otherwise, you wouldn’t subscribe to this little newsletter.
But have you ever stopped to ask yourself why you read?
As a child, it was to become a better reader—to learn the language and become more proficient at every field of study that requires reading (all of them, essentially). And, to put it more simply, you read to have fun.
As an older student, you’d read to become a better thinker, a better reasoner, and more well-informed on topics that interested you. Along with your reading assignments came a healthy dose of essay writing.
“Writing comes from reading, and reading is the finest teacher of how to write.” — Annie Proulx
If you want to become a better writer (and thus, a better communicator), the secret is to practice by reading more. You’ll be exposed to different styles, a wider vocabulary, and broader ideas. And they’ll rub off on you.
But what about your reading habit now? Why do you read today?
It probably goes without saying that you read to continue the process of learning. The best leaders are life-long learners.
You read to understand your industry and the associated forces that may impact it. You read to fine-tune your craft. You read for self-improvement.
But shouldn’t there be more?
In his letters, Gustave Flaubert wrote:
“Do not read as children do to enjoy themselves, or, as the ambitious do to educate themselves. No, read to live.”
Read to live.
Timeless and timely advice, I’d say.
Books are voyages of discovery. And with them, you can get your passport stamped on destinations around the world and over many centuries.
See the fog-enshrouded streets of Victorian London, the newly-laid cobblestones of the Via Appia in the second century BC, experience Hemingway’s Spanish bullrings of the 1920s, and Fennimore Cooper’s Mohican country of the 1750s.
What do we find on these journeys?
Aside from the sundry settings, to which our senses may be attuned for the first time, we find something more fundamental: we discover ourselves.
In what we read, we find the present in the past and the past in the present. And in doing so, you discover within yourself the presence of a once and future person.
“When you reread a classic, you do not see more in the book than you did before; you see more in you than there was before.” — Clifton Fadiman
As travel restrictions begin to ratchet up once more (just today the CDC advised unvaccinated people to refrain from traveling over Labor Day weekend), we still have the ability to travel in our minds.
My friend Christopher Penn is bringing people along with him on his virtual travel adventures. Through an Oculus app, he is able to travel around the world virtually, and he shares his travels on Instagram.
Perhaps you appreciate books and don’t have as many at hand as you would like. Or you just miss the wonder of a curious mind and a lazy afternoon that accompany browsing the shelves of a library or used book store. Youre in luck: the Internet Archives Library Explorer allows you to browse 3D shelves by subject, age, date and other sorting criteria.
“I care not how humble your bookshelf may be, or how lonely the room which it adorns. Close the door of that room behind you, shut off with it all the cares of the outer world, plunge back into the soothing company of the great dead, and then you are through the magic portal into that fair land whither worry and vexation can follow you no more.” — Arthur Conan Doyle, 1907
Don’t let your geographical restrictions limit what you read.
And please, give your scrolling thumb a rest. Put down the phone and pick up a book instead.
You might be surprised at how much living you do.
Thanks, and I’ll see you on the internet.
The Premium edition this week has more thoughts on the physicality of books and what they mean to us, along with some interesting timeless and timely links and recommended items to round out your reading habit: