As a high school teacher, I always told my students that the only person they should really thank for an incredibly wonderful gift was the person who taught them to read. Whether it’s a parent, grandparent, or educator, this person has given them an invaluable tool. When you know how to read, you can unlock any door. And, yes, even the technology we are so fond of and the various devices we cherish need to be read and understood.
Today, it is more essential than ever to read a book. The beauty of language, the interest in a story, is so much more invigorating to our minds and souls than short texts and chat messages.
Those who write also read a lot. In his DIY book, On writing, Stephen King advises authors this classic nugget: “If you want to be a writer, you have to do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. As an author, I completely agree. We writers read everything.
The Victorians called reading “an acquired taste for literature” and I acquired it very early. I don’t remember who taught me to read, probably my parents, but it was a gift that kept on giving and grew exponentially over time. There were always books around when I was growing up and I read everything. My mother inherited Reader’s Digest Condensed Booksa series of hardcover anthology collections published by the family monthly Reader’s Digest, of my grandmother. The collections contained five or six current abridged bestselling novels and non-fiction books. When she brought them home and I opened the box, I thought I had found a treasure. They were magical.
Needless to say I devoured all the books in the collections. Marjorie Morningstar, The Kapillan of Malta, The Nun’s Story, Giant, Caine’s Mutiny, Tales from the South Pacific and so many others have entertained and enlightened me. These books taught me that there was so much more to life than the limited amount of what I knew. They brought me consolation and joy, peace and disturbance, doubt and assurance – they shook my world.
My favorite books were those whose detailed stories and characters allowed me to live in another dimension. It was exhilarating to feel somewhere else with interesting people who were so different from those who populated my world. And it wasn’t just the stories that influenced me; poetry was once an all-consuming passion. TS Eliot spoke of a society of dead poets. This society was Eliot’s way of expressing that each author changed poetic tradition and interpretation and made it new. The Ancient Sailor’s Rhyme stayed with me for years, just like Kubla Khan and The highwayman. All “dead” poets, all with strong influences on new authors. For me, becoming a writer was an early ambition because of the wonderful books I was reading.
Many of the books we read influence us in subtle ways that enrich our writing without defining it. Some influence us by opening a window in our mind that did not exist before. In short, books make us think.
Perhaps author Annie Dillard said it best when she talked about the influence of one writer on another. The writer studies literature, he pays attention to what he reads, because that is what he will write. So true.
Writers are readers, and it’s easy to see how certain books have left their mark on modern authors. Comedian Dave Barry admitted that he liked the writings of another famous comedian, Mark Twain. Barry won the Mark Twain Prize for Humor.
Anne Rice said that the book great expectations by Charles Dickens, a book she rereads from time to time, has a lot to do with her becoming a writer. Isabel Allende credits reading works by authors as diverse as Germaine Greer and Gabriel García Márquez with influencing the writing of her first novel. The house of spirits.
In a world where reading has sometimes been reduced to scanning a work onto a computer or portable device, I hope the joy of reading and the influence of authors has not faded. Books can have a great influence not just on the creative minds of writers, but on anyone looking to go beyond their own lives. Reading is a precious gift for all of us.
© copyright 2019 Kristen Houghton all rights reserved
Help someone learn the precious gift of reading by volunteering as a tutor here: http://www.project-literacy.org/