The Constant Reader (2014). Digital collage created & copyright © by Eric Edelman. All rights reserved.
A man’s mind stretched to a new idea never goes back to its original dimensions.
—Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.
There is no Frigate like a Book To take us Lands away,
Nor any Coursers like a Page Of prancing Poetry –
This Traverse may the poorest take Without oppress of Toll –
How frugal is the Chariot That bears the Human soul.
As you are read these words—or any other words—and make sense of them, you use a gift first given to someone else 5,200 years ago. In ways we are unaware of, reading and writing transform our lives every day,just as they have transformed human culture during the past five millennia.
Writing allowed information to be stored in permanent form; reading permitted its retrieval. Those who wrote (or dictated) about their skills could share and teach them with others whom they had not met. Reading and writing caused trade to increase between cities and nations. Giving rise to correspondence, written language first made possible accurate communication between people who could not meet in person. Not least, writing and reading improved communication and thinking within the self, and gave birth to the new art form of literature.
Although we remain unaware of all the benefits that it gives us, we would be wise not to take reading for granted. For most of written history until the last couple of centuries, only a small number of people could read. They jealously guarded the secret of reading; those who taught “unauthorized” persons to read were punished by law in many societies. In several nations, reading became an underground skill taught and learned in secret.
Reading remains under attack in our time. In some countries, people who learn to read risk death. Tyrannies recognize that reading threatens their power, and they attempt to curb it: where they can, they forbid its teaching; where they cannot prevent reading, they attempt to control or censor what is read. Fortunately, censorship seldom succeeds. Learning to read and choosing what one reads and why, have become fundamental individual human rights.
Be grateful that you can read freely. Oppose censorship. Teach your children and others to read and to enjoy reading. Consciously choose for yourself what you wish to read. Strive to read for a purpose. Think carefully about what you read; read critically and widely. The book in your hands may a be powerful weapon in the fight against ignorance and for freedom.