I have chosen a reading life. I would like to think it was conscious and deliberate—an epiphanous childhood moment when I rose up from the sandbox, raised my shovel to the air and declared, “I shall be a reader.” It didn’t happen that way. Like most grooves in our lives, reading was as unconscious for me as the workings of my liver or cerebellum. Seeking out books and quiet corners in which to read them has not only been my extreme pleasure for over sixty years but also my most pressing need—my passion, the why for most of my days.
Truly Shakespeare said that his library was “dukedom large enough.” Charles Lamb admitted to a pure love of “losing himself in other people’s minds through a book.” Jonathan Swift dubbed books the “children of the brain”, and John Wilson candidly admitted that he “yearned for a book and a shady nook.” Emily Dickinson sang of books as frigates and described pages as coursers that “traverse and bear the human soul by chariot.” I have succumbed and given myself over to the spell of many a book and lost days, weeks, and months to it. And then I turned around and read it again. I, like Henry David Thoreau, have “dated a new era in my life from the reading of a book.”
Throughout this sojourn I have been delighted to find bits of my soul hitchhiking about in books. I take these puzzle pieces out of the book and lock them firmly in place—a firmer more fit human now. Because I took the admonition to heart of President Dallin H. Oaks at BYU at the opening assembly when we were both in our rookie year there to “always have a book going”, I met James Herriot through a clerk in the BYU bookstore. A summer boss at Good Humor introduced me to John McPhee. Bill Bryson, James Michener, Eugene England, M. Scott Peck, Ray Bradbury, Annie Dillard, Chaim Potok, Willa Cather, Anne Tyler, Jordan Peterson, Lowell Bennion, A.J. Jacobs, C.S. Lewis, Robert Fulghum, Gary Schmidt, Betty McDonald, Pat Conroy, Barbara Kingsolver, John Steinbeck, Jerry Spinelli,—the list goes on and on and winds across time and cultures. My reading tastes run the gamut from science fiction to travel to philosophy to history to self-help to children’s literature. I even read cookbooks! I embrace it all.
I have discovered soul books as I peer over shoulders and into backpacks of strangers, interrogate friends, read reviews, lumber through bookstores, peruse private libraries, haunt book sales and generally nosey my way through life. On one occasion, a spontaneous (but probably inspired) trip to the Deseret Industries yielded an out-of-print book about rustic life in Maine that I had been on the prowl for for about three years!
My reading palette has refined over time, and my tastes have evolved. My standards have risen, and my impatience with poor writing increased. I’m a snob for good writing. (“Thank you, E.B. White. You ruined me.”) I can sniff it out in the first few pages. My ability to glean truth and pure wisdom has also been honed making my reading time deeply satisfying to my spirit as well as my mind.
My Goodreads.com account reveals that I am “currently reading 162 books.” In my own defense, I suspect that every time I download a book and then open it to take a look around, Goodreads interprets that as “reading”. I guess there are worse things of which I could be accused. I DO read multiple books at once—my record is 15, but that is just a good defense against never being without something to read at any hour of the day or night! A teetering stack on my nightstand is a comforting image before I nod off each night.
So, I read and collect and gift and discuss and trade and recommend and seek and befriend books. It requires the best that I have to give the task. Isaiah (who must know us, sympathize with us, and appreciate our worldly distractions because he saw them in vision so clearly) stated it so plainly when he said, “Wisdom and knowledge shall be the stability of thy times.” Books have not only been my scaffolding but also my foundation.
They continue to be my wings, my entrance ticket, my constant best friend, a telescope, a microscope and a good sturdy-handled shovel. I can only hope that my eternal mansion will grant me a vast comfortable library off to one side with warm maple bookcases, an overstuffed chair, and perhaps a cup of anise mint tea in a diminutive English cup on a small adjoining table– a little music box to wind. I’ll come when hearkened, but just let me finish this chapter.