KAMLOOPS — Canada Reads 2018 has wrapped up. The winning book is Forgiveness by Mark Sakamoto, defended by Jeanne Beker. I am looking forward to reading it; the rest that were in the ‘battle of the books’ too. The stack of books I am reading now is high enough to make me rethink the previous sentence. But that is the trouble (and the wonder) of books: once you get the bug, you won’t be rid of it easily.
I grew up with bookshelves that covered entire walls, two rows of books on each. I found answers, laughter, heartbreak, and inspiration as I turned the pages. I got to know people better because I read the books they recommended. I found solace in books many a time when life caught my fingers in the door.
If children are lucky, they start life with books around them, being read to, their minds following characters and stories, their busy minds coming up with a ‘why?’ for anything that does not make sense to them. There is a lot that doesn’t, because that is how humans start. Small and curious in a big world that has a lot of surprises and a lot of answers. For which they have questions. Indulge them, if you can, long mornings of reading in bed. Drop what you’re doing for the sake of reading together. Wrestle Santa into leaving more books than toys under the tree.
If we are to guide them with some dignity (rather than trying to answer all their questions, which we cannot,) we ought to read our share of books too. The competition between books and screens, be it a phone, tablet, computer, or TV, has become an uncomfortable topic. It is but too easy to push a button. For children and teenagers, the implications are even deeper and more disturbing. The world will only become more complex and its problems will need more and better attention from well-educated minds. If knowledge is gold, then books (and select verified internet resources) are the proverbial philosopher’s stone.
Reading (books especially, but not only) can take us to where we learn more about ourselves as people, which in turn helps us develop humility, compassion and understanding. It is often said that each book contains a world of its own. It’s true. We become better when we travel through each of many. We grow richer every time we live vicariously through characters, be it imaginary or teal, past or present.
Just think of a book that made a strong impression on you. It was maybe a book you read as a child, curled up under a blanket and unable to put it down for fear of disengaging from that wonderful adventure. Or one that you read as an adult and when you got to the last page you placed it on your night table, so you can go back to it whenever the need strikes. Books become voices we trust and seek to be in the company of, much like the friends we somehow know we’ll have forever.
Books challenge our assumptions and beliefs. There’s no better way to learn that interhuman dialogue requires the humility that comes with the realization that one person’s opinion is simply just that. Don’t judge people before you walk a mile in their shoes they say. Reading is one way of trying someone else’s shoes for size before the mile-long trek.
The mission to stay inspired and look farther than the immediate pleasure of instant gratification that screens offer is essential, more so today and even more so for our children. A mind keen on learning is a better mind. Busy minds connect with less aggression, as learning tames the part of the mind that ignorance can otherwise fill with fear and resentment. A learning mind smiles before it frowns and pauses before it engages in dialogue. Books make us better listeners.
As for books vs. screens, that is not an either/or case. Have both but reserve a longer chunk of time for the first. Reading is like a treasure hunt; one book leads to another and then another. Before you know it, a path appears, each book a stepping stone and a reminder of time well spent.
The downtown library branch will be opening its doors to the public on Friday after many weeks of renovation. Give yourself permission to get lost in books for one afternoon (to start with), or for as much time as you can afford but do it nonetheless. One world at a time, your own will become better, I promise.
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