I am blessed to belong, finally, to a community of readers and writers, people who feel and believe as I do about words, about story. In a way, it’s a very literal kind of homecoming, finding these others who fluently speak and understand my language. Through the alchemy of words and technology, I can converse with these friends far-flung about the country and even across the water on any given day.
But in my local, physical life, I more frequently encounter non-readers. Not illiterates, by any means – I live in one of the most highly-educated, white-collared areas of this metropolis. These are just people for whom reading outside of school or work is not important; they don’t have the time or the desire or the patience to read more than a couple of books a year.
I wish I could say that these acquaintances, upon getting to know me, ask me why it’s important to me, why I think reading is a worthwhile use of time. The truth is, they don’t, or at least no one has yet. But it could happen, theoretically, and when – if – it does, here’s what I will tell them:
(1) The word is the means by which God Himself speaks to us. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Since the Word-made-flesh ascended back into Heaven, the holy scriptures are the primary line of communication by which we may learn about Him. There is much insight to be gleaned, also, from the writings of our fathers in the faith.
(2) The written word is the most effective vehicle for the transmission of knowledge. No, it isn’t the most immediate, most rapidly transmitted method of conveying information, i.e. facts about something, say an approaching hurricane; obviously, near-instantaneous updates from the local weather station are what we want to help us prepare for the storm. But knowledge is not just facts; it is an amalgamation of information and experience. Those of you who live in Kansas or Wyoming are not likely to witness a hurricane first-hand, but you can gain some knowledge of what it is like by reading the accounts of those who have lived through one.
(3) The well-written word is clear, reliable, and long-lived. Spoken words can be misheard, misunderstood, misinterpreted, misquoted, misremembered, and altogether forgotten; while pages in manuscript or print can be re-read, studied, referred back to, and found anew by generations far removed from the writers.
(4) Stories are vehicles for values. Their characters model for us responses to the varying circumstances of life, and in so doing help us to shape and refine our own foundational beliefs and outlook.
(5) Stories are enduring. They teach us the history of humanity thus far, and they will carry our own story far into the future.
(6) Stories are mirrors. A person’s face is his most distinguishing feature, yet he can only see his own face in reflection. Similarly, stories may help us recognize ideologies and attitudes in characters that we are not aware of in ourselves.
(7) Stories are windows. They make it possible for us to see beyond the walls of our little homes and communities to the wider world outside.
(8) Stories are time machines. We can travel in them to the remote past, discovering ancient wisdom, and to the far-off future, envisioning limitless possibilities.
(9) Stories are microscopes. They afford us an intimate, focused view of small but vital things that are often overlooked.
(10) Stories are telescopes. Through them, we can break through our earth-bound vision to observe majestic wonders far beyond the realm of possibility in our day to day lives.
(11) Stories are builders of community. We find kindred spirits in certain characters, or particular authors, and they become an avenue of introduction to kindred spirits in our own place and time.