Books have always been treasures for thinkers, but given today’s politically correct public education system, from kindergarten through high school and (with a few exceptions) indoctrination factories called universities, they’re even more important for anyone wishing to develop independent and critical thinking. Teachers at all levels often have curricula that have nothing to do with the subject matter they are supposed to teach, and many university courses – such as women’s or gender “studies” – are nothing more than group identity labs.
Every topic under the sun, however, waits between the covers of books in print or digital form, and a plethora of works on the same topic usually exist; thus, readers can compare the facts and views of many different authors.
Johannes Gutenberg can be thanked for inventing the printing press in Germany around 1450, which enabled the massive printing of books and enabled the rapid dissemination of knowledge to hitherto illiterate individuals. It changed the world. In Germany and the rest of medieval Europe before this 15th century technology, the general populace had access to education only through oral communications, the visual arts (both from prehistoric times), and the powerful Church Catholic, who in many cases had political and religious power to control knowledge. Royalty and the wealthy could hire tutors for the young and send their older children to the first few universities. Notaries who were learned and could write very well were in great demand to execute legal and other documents, but without formal education the average person learned little beyond learning the trade, and this was oral and/or based on diagrams.
Before printing, most books were intended for historical chronicling or literature in one form or another. They were painstakingly handwritten (usually on parchment – treated animal skins – rather than paper) and manuscripts were the result; the parchment pages have been folded, bound together and sewn into a book format. These were often aesthetically beautiful, with colored inks, intricately engraved designs and, at times, significant sections even gilded with gold leaf. Then, if desired, the originals were copied (again by hand), but if the scribe was lazy or lacked skill, the text could be altered. If translations into another language were returned, the translations might be faulty, so the whole matter was fragile. Additionally, the books were rare due to their production limitations.
With mass-produced books, ideas were finally accessible to anyone who could learn to read. In today’s modern world, virtually everyone in developed or semi-developed countries can read. But what and how is the burning question. Add to the previously mentioned political correctness saturating educational institutions and the demonstrable fact that most young people are tied to televisions, computers and cell phones for information and communication, and we begin to understand why books are more important than ever.
Books are full of ideas and information – Ideas and information from which anyone with an inquisitive mind can learn new things. In addition, new, varied and competing ideas promote thinking. And thought forces the use and practice of reasoning. And since reason is the primary function of human survival, it behooves everyone who loves life to use it. How do books help us to excel in reasoning? We can read the ideas in a book critically and sharpen our ability to reason. But to do this, we must not treat the books as sacred as many are used to, keeping them clean, tidy and shiny. Books are tools for developing and exercising the mind. As an author myself with books to be analyzed for veracity and value, I encourage readers not to revere my works or the work of any other author, but to use their. Authors can be admired – and good ones should be – but it’s the content of their books that counts.
If you’re not a regular reader, make a list of topics that interest you and rank them in order of importance. Then, go to a bookstore or library or look online and review books that deal with your current topic. Take the one you find most fascinating and read it.
Here’s one way to “read” a book and make sure you’re fully engaged with the content: underline important words or passages, draw vertical lines along a margin to mark important paragraphs or thoughts, put in brackets the sections that deserve special attention, refuse the corners of important pages and note on the triangle facing down the subject treated on this page, argue with the author or amplify the thoughts or write your own new thoughts in the margins , use question marks, explanatory marks or any other type of mark to record emotional reactions, use capital letters for particularly important notations, draw arrows at the bottom of a page to indicate that the content of the continuous page. . . In short, tag the book with your thoughts. To do this you must use judgment, and to make judgments you must use reason. This process keeps you sharp.
There is also a bonus to reading this way. If you want to re-read a book (which is a good idea to refresh your memory), skim through and re-read only the parts you’ve annotated. Also review your own reactions. An active mind – learn, absorb, reject – keeps an individual young at heart. Some books become our friends for life. Through reading, we can also make friends with otherwise unknown people: authors. Read books for the sake of your soul.
As edibles nourish our bodies, ideas nourish our minds, and the combination makes us spiritually whole.