The Influence of Reading
“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies…The man who never reads lives only one.” – George R. R. Martin
My mom always encouraged us to read when we were kids. She didn’t even care what it was, she just wanted us to grow up with an appreciation for reading. She didn’t just do this by telling us to read, but by setting an example. My mom was a voracious reader when I was growing up, and she would retell stories she had read and it captivated us. We wanted to read stories, too!
I didn’t like reading at first. I suspect it was partly due to the fact that I have a degree of dyslexia. Even to this day, I am a very slow reader, and often have to reread something to truly appreciate or understand it. As a small kid, I found this frustrating. However, I got a set of books for Christmas when I was maybe 8 years old. Little Women, The Secret Garden, Gulliver’s Travels and others, all books that told stories that brought out the best in my imagination. I decided then that I wanted to grow up to write stories, too!
For the Christmas that I was ten years old, my mom gave me Anne of Green Gables and I was hooked. It was magic. There was adventure (and misadventure), there was romance, poetry, and positive life lessons. I would have to say that I think Anne influenced me more than any other fictional work ever has. It is no wonder that Mark Twain had such high praise for the Anne book! To this day, I find myself reciting the poetry within the books (Anne of Green Gables is how I learned to love Tennyson!), and quoting Anne herself. “It’s been my experience that you can nearly always enjoy things if you make up your mind firmly that you will.” How often have I repeated this to myself?!
I have seen the moon rise over the African desert, I have seen the mountains of Afghanistan with the sunrise behind them, I have seen horses march across Europe in battle, and I have seen the blossoms on the cherry trees in the springtime in eastern Canada. Not with my eyes, but in my imagination through reading books.
It is a funny thing that even as a kid and a young teenager; I enjoyed and gravitated toward stories about immigration and new beginnings. I rarely read fiction anymore, but one of my favorite books is Evergreen by Belva Plain, which is a saga about the life of a young woman coming to America. Another one is The Irish by Doris Flood Ladd, a story about two siblings braving the uncertainty of a new life to escape the poverty of their life in Ireland. As it turns out, I ended up becoming an immigrant myself!
Reading is a major influence on our thinking and development. It is as strong an influence as the people we spend our time with. This is why we should read hungrily, and not pigeon hole ourselves into one thing. We should let these stories broaden our horizons; take us to different places and even different time periods. When we see the world through different perspectives we gain wisdom and compassion, and hopefully also a desire to go out and see the world ourselves and tell our own stories!