"Put that book down, and go outside!" implored my mom on a daily basis.
"No, I won't put the book down!" I firmly, exasperatedly, and adamantly responded each time.
What's the big deal about going outside? Yes, I love nature, and it's fun to create images out of the clouds and play with ladybugs, but, let's be honest here, a book can show you much more about the world than your own two eyes can show you, and more than the real world too--you can share Mandela's cell in South Africa, work on tuberculosis with Koch, solve mysteries with Adam Dalgliesh, ride Aslan in Narnia with Lucy and Susan, and tilt at windmills with Don Quixote.
Since the age of four, I've had a love affair with books. One is always either in my hand or nearby. My bedroom has bookshelves on three walls, so I can fondly remember an adventure in this book or eagerly anticipate an adventure to come in that book. I have a dictionary in every room of my house and in my car, just so that I can get the meaning of a new word when I see it. I can't imagine my life without books, and I am sure, like Borges who said, "I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library," that heaven will be a glorious library full of all the books ever written--nothing will go out of print--and everyone I meet will like books as much as I do.
Books are just like friends and lovers. Some books, like some friends and lovers, delight for a lifetime, but many books, like many friends and lovers, are just right for a particular time and place. And, just like I want to keep in touch with all my friends because they form the tapestry of my life and I theirs, I want to keep all the books I've ever read.
Alas, space constraints often make this impossible. A few years ago, after we moved to a smaller home, my youngest son insisted that I halve my library, which was around 7,000 volumes, and fit every book into one of our 24 bookshelves. This took me a whole summer, with some days finding me lost in re-reading an old nugget that I'd forgotten about, and that I knew had to stay in the library. Now, four years later, my bookshelves are straining under the added weight of new additions.
Where do these new additions come from? Well, I am incapable of passing by a used bookstore without stopping in, and, once in, a new gem or two always attracts my notice. This might be a new poet who tickles my fancy or a new mystery or a new analysis of Shakespeare's plays--it might even be a collection of jokes or, one recent great find, a collection of humorous gravestones--the more eclectic the better is my idea of a good library.
After my first two children were born, the woman who was like a mom to me said, "Honey, you have to quit reading so much. You're a mom now, and your children need your full attention all the time." I was shocked! I remember saying, "If I don't read something every day, I'll be a terrible mom because I'll be cranky and out of sorts, but don't worry, my children always come first. I'll just read after they go to asleep." "But, Honey," mom responded, "that's when you need to get your sleep."
Well, I ignored mom and kept reading every night, AND I read for an hour or more everyday to my children. When my eldest son said at age three or four, "Mommy, I love Beowulf; please read it again," my heart soared with joy. Watching each of my four children learn to read and have favorite stories, characters, and lines is one of my greatest joys because I know that they have so much more of the world in their hearts and minds than they would have if they didn't love reading.
So, go outside to play and enjoy nature, but remember the joys that await you inside of a book too.
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