WOODY BASSETT: Turn the page

Books transport, deliver into lives, worlds unknown

Are you feeling down or stressed out from the pace and challenges of life? Seek a few hours of refuge in a book.

Are you feeling lonely or isolated? Dive into a new book because if you read, you are never alone.

Are you hooked on 24-hour cable news and sick of non-stop political warfare? Enjoy some quiet time by reading a book instead.

Are you spending too much time on social media? Reach for a book instead.

Are you tired of watching your favorite sports team struggle? Is the weather bad outside? Do you want your airline flight to pass more quickly? Lose yourself in a book.

I was lucky to have parents who encouraged me to read and still remember as a child the day my mother took me to the old Fayetteville Public Library to get my first library card. My father, who was a voracious reader, always had a stack of books at his side, often sharing them with me as I grew older. I consider it a blessing to have discovered at a young age the value of reading and the joy an interesting book can bring.

Many of us can't imagine a life without books or a world with no libraries and bookstores. We find reading books to be a fulfilling endeavor, one of life's genuine pleasures. Books are like a dog, always there for you when you get home at the end of the day, ready to give you unconditional love. No matter what kind of day you've had, it can be refreshing to step out of your own world and enter another one. Reading a book lets you do that. Reading won't cure all that ails you but spending time with a book is healthy for the mind and therapeutic for the soul, helping you relax and providing something to be enjoyed through both good and bad times.

J. K. Rowling, the British novelist, says this about books: "Reading is the sole means by which we slip, involuntarily, often helplessly, into another's skin, another's voice, another's soul."

It's estimated that 130 million books have been published in the course of modern history, so there's something for everyone. A great book can be powerful, even transformational for some. Books tell us the stories of people we don't know, places we haven't been, historical events that shaped us and worlds we can only imagine. Books expand our minds and broaden our horizons. We learn from books, each one teaching us something new or helping us see some things differently. Reading books fuels our sense of curiosity, affording us the opportunity to never stop learning, no matter how old we are.

No one can make you read a book and many American adults choose not to open one. Television and social media have in many ways superseded book-reading, which requires more focus and attention. Navigating a book from start to finish is a much more satisfying journey, a better use of time than constantly glancing at tweets limited to 280 characters or looking at Facebook to see what someone else had for dinner.

Charles Blow, an op-ed columnist for the New York Times, captured it perfectly in a January 2014 column: "I understand that we are now inundated with information, and people's reading habits have become fragmented to some degree by bite-size nuggets of text messages and social media, and that takes up much of the time that could otherwise be devoted to long-form reading. I get it. And I don't take a troglodytic view of social media. I participate and enjoy it. But reading texts is not the same as reading a text. There is no intellectual equivalent to allowing oneself the time and space to get lost in another person's mind, because in doing so we find ourselves. ... That is the inimitable power of literature, to give context and meaning to the trials and triumphs of living."

Reading interests vary, so each to their own. My preference is for books on American history and biographies.

Barbara Tuchman, noted American author and historian, expressed the essence of books with these words: "Books are the carriers of civilization. Without books, history is silent, literature dumb, science crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill. They are engines of change, windows on the world, lighthouses erected in the sea of time."

Whether it's fiction or non-fiction, a story unfolds as you turn the pages of a book. Immersing yourself in a book can be liberating, sometimes a license to use your imagination and occasionally conducive to a pleasurable escape from reality.

Like a close friend, a book is always there for you. Make time to read.

Commentary on 02/21/2019

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