By Stephen Doherty
“The more that you read, the more things you will know.
The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” —Dr. Seuss
There was a memorable scene in the late 1950s that showed a little boy in his pajamas carrying a teddy bear- wandering through row after row of color televisions in a department store. His eyes were as big as saucers as he struggled to absorb this amazing new technology that suddenly brought the world to his doorstep in living color! When asked, “Well son–now that color television has arrived, which do you like better? This beautiful color TV or a book you pull off the shelf?” The little boy lit up and smiled and answered honestly and excitedly, “Gee mister-BOOKS! The pictures are SO much better!”
When I was a boy growing up in the 60s, the only thing that held as much attraction for me as a football field, a basketball court, or a swimming pool–was wandering the aisles of our local public library. My mom and dad were reading fanatics and would drag me to the library two or three times a week. The pungent smell of thousands of different books from all over the world made for a magical and memorable experience. I will be forever grateful that they valued knowledge and education over athletic prowess. My father was a journalist/editor and valued thoughtful and articulate prose over home runs and touchdowns. Don’t get me wrong, they never discouraged sports. I played college football but was smart enough to realize that it was merely a means to an end. Knowledge and the ability to communicate would become the tools of my trade.
Over the years, my kids have asked me many times what I consider the most crucial component for a successful life. I have always been unequivocal in my answer. I told them, “The ability to persuade and influence is perhaps life’s most useful and powerful tool. To do that, you have to be able to craft and articulate your thoughts in a way that people will understand, respect, and act upon. With few exceptions, that requires a good vocabulary and a deep well of anecdotal prose from which to draw upon. In short, reading books will provide you with that capability.”
My kids are very intelligent and always had good grades but they never read any more than they had to. Reading was a requirement to learn things they needed to know to pass tests. Unlike my generation, the sheer, unadulterated pleasure of reading today has been supplanted by an array of entertaining distractions like gaming or social media or a infinite variety of on-demand movies. I believe that while these high-tech sensory stimulations offer a measure of excitement and entertainment not available when I was growing up, they’ve also lost the mind’s ability to deliver an amazingly detailed and exciting adventure created merely from words on a page. To this day, I can still smell the beaches and jungle that Robinson Crusoe had to survive and can still close my eyes and join Huckleberry Finn or Tom Sawyer as they explored caves and rode rafts down the Mississippi River. To me, Call of Duty falls far short of a Mark Twain tale.
To their credit, my kids have recently asked for books and Kindles for Christmas gifts instead of CDs or gadgetry. I think they’ve discovered for themselves two simple facts of life. One, words are life’s most important currency and great value is derived from the ability to effectively and compellingly communicate with those words. The second lesson is perhaps the more important one. The realization that books can unleash the creative power of our minds and take us to amazing places we never imagined. Watching a movie surrenders your senses to someone else’s imagination. Reading a book harnesses the most powerful force in our lives–the infinite possibilities of our own creative minds. Thank God-the road to Pooh Corner will always have out the welcome mat and Galt’s Gulch will always beckon me home…
“I must say I find television very educational. The minute somebody turns it on, I go into the library and read a good book.” — Groucho Marx