Read My Lips

Nothing ever invented –

can give you a bigger life than a book!

ONCE UPON A TIME in the dead of winter in the Dakota Territory, Theodore Roosevelt took off in a makeshift boat down the Little Missouri River in pursuit of several thieves who had stolen his prized rowboat. After several days, he caught up and got the draw on them with his trusty Winchester rifle, at which point they surrendered. Then Roosevelt set off to haul the thieves cross-country to justice. They headed across the snow- covered wastes of the Badlands of Dakota to the jail at Dickinson, and Roosevelt walked the entire 40 miles or so an astonishing feat. But what makes it especially memorable is that during that time he managed to read Anna Karenina.

Today, I often think of that when I hear people say they haven’t time to read. Reportedly, the average American does have time to watch TV, about four hours a day. The average person, I’m told, reads at a rate of 250 words per minute. So, based on these statistics, he or she could, in a week, read the complete poems of T. S. Eliot, two Thornton Wilder plays, the complete poems of Maya Angelou, Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, and the entire Book of Psalms.

BUT a week is a long time by today’s standards, when information is available at the touch of a finger. We’re being sold the idea that information is learning, and we’re being sold a bill of goods. Knowing the area of the state of Connecticut or the jumping capacity of a flea may be useful, but it isn’t learning of itself. The greatest of all avenues to learning—to wisdom, adventure, pleasure, insight, to understanding human nature, understanding ourselves and our world and our place in it—is in reading books.

Read for life, all your life. Nothing ever invented provides such sustenance , such infinite reward for time spent, as a good book. Read to your heart’s content. Let one book lead to another. (And it will.) They nearly always do. Take up a great author and read everything he or she has written. Read about places you’ve never

been. Read books that changed history: Tom Paine’s Common Sense, the auto-biography of Frederick Douglass, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring.

Read those books you know you’re supposed to have read and imagined as dreary. A classic may be defined as a book that stays long in print, and a book stays long in print only because it is exceptional. Why exclude the exceptional from your experience? And when you read a book you love—a book you feel has enlarged the experience of being alive, a book that “lights the fire” then spread the word.

To carry a book with you wherever you go is old advice and good advice. John Adams urged his son John Quincy to carry a volume of poetry. “You will never be alone,” he said, “with a poet in your pocket.”

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author of Truman, has twice won

the National Book Award for

histories and biographies.


Family Circle Magazine

April 18, 2000. (Pgs. 71-72)

375 Lexington Ave. New York, N.Y. 10017

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