The World of Reading

Delta Winds cover 1998Delta Winds: A Magazine of Student Essays
A Publication of San Joaquin Delta College


The World of Reading

Rochelle A. Anderson

Reading has been a part of my life since my mother started reading to me when I was a toddler. A favorite childhood memory is the day my brothers, sister, and I raced into our parents' bedroom to be the first one to ask our mom to read us a story, but she was getting ready for work and told us to have our dad read us a story. Dad told us that he didn't know how to read. Of course, he was just pulling our leg, yet we believed him and told our mom that Dad didn't know how to read. "What?" she exclaimed. "Oh, of course, he knows how to read." We confronted Dad with our new information, and he introduced us to Robert Service's Complete Book of Poems, starting with "Bill the Bomber" and concluding with "The Cremation of Sam McGee." Dad made the action come alive right down to the sound of the machine guns in "Bill the Bomber" and brought out the cold loneliness and creepiness of "The Cremation of Sam McGee." Dad was a great storyteller, and this storytelling let him expound on different aspects of his life. To this day we don't know which parts of the stories were true and which parts were made up.

Reading expands our minds and knowledge, giving our brain food to think about. In the first sentence of A Tale of Two Cities, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. . . " you can feel your brain clanking as the wheels start to turn. Your first reaction might be something like, what a stupid sentence, what was this guy thinking about? I thought Dickens was supposed to be this great writer. By now your brain is up to full capacity as it churns the sentence over and over again, processing the information and throwing out ideas. Okay how can it be the best and worst of times at the same moment? Could we say the same thing about our lives today with the crime, violence, child abuse, spousal abuse, and drug abuse, with high unemployment and low wages. Our educational system, social security system, and insurance system are spiralling out of control--could it be the worst of times, yet could today also be the best of times? We wake up in the morning with a roof over our heads, food on the table, a job to go to, and a family that loves us. Sure, there are hassles like: "He's looking at me," "She hit me," "The washer's stopped working"--an average day, but isn't it the best of times?

Reading improves our comprehension and our knowledge, enriches our vocabulary, and hones our communication skills. Reading to our children develops their love for reading, their natural curiosity about the world they live in, builds their self-esteem, keeps them off the street and out of gangs, develops their leadership qualities, and gives them an advantage over those who have not learned to enjoy reading. Reading as a family can strengthen the family bond. Studies show that older people who read for pleasure suffer much less from loneliness and depression.

Reading gives us an opportunity to travel around the world, calling on all of our senses to see, smell, feel, hear, and touch the real world and the imagined, developing our sense of adventure, our imagination, and our knowledge. People who do not have the means or who may not be in good health can travel by way of books. Without spending any money, you can take a magic carpet ride to the Dark Ages or to outer space. When you or your children are bummed out because there is nothing on television, nothing to do, it is too cold or too hot, you can sit in the comfort of your own home, pick up a book, and enter into one of life's great escapes. Without endangering your life, you can be "scared to death" by Steven King's The Shining or live through a love story with Anna Villegas's book, All We Know of Heaven.

While reading expands our imagination, movies and television take away our imagination. We can feel the emotion and the excitement through movies and television, but feeling a story through our imagination, traveling to the past, to the future, or through the present by reading can be intoxicating.

Reading educates us about the world around us: our past, present, and future. Our past is part of our future. For example, where did our ideas about freedom come from? Was it from the Greek culture or from the Native American Culture? Or why did the colonists who were loyal to the crown revolt when they already had self-rule and the basic freedoms we proclaim to be our country's original ideas? Finding the answers to these questions will help us to understand our country's value system and drive. It can also help us to understand the evolution of other countries and their governments in order not to be the domineering big brother we have become. We can read about our political system and become more effective voters, or we can not read about it and continue to groan and give up our voice as voters because we feel the system doesn't work.

Look at the advancements that have been made since the invention of the printing press and as the common person has learned to read. We have learned to use our imagination, develop ideas, create things from the simple pen we write with to a spacecraft. Almost everything that we use on an everyday basis and take for granted was developed after the printing press.

When Johannes Gutenberg and his associates developed the printing press in about 1440, did they think it would lead to the road of vaccines, computers, and space exploration? Gutenberg gives us the means to see and feel the world (past, present, and future) that surrounds us. If we don't take advantage of Gutenberg's gift which gives us books, magazines, and newspapers, we will miss out on a world of experiences. Through reading books, such as Ivanhoe, we can experience the adventure of being a knight during the Middle Ages; Roanoke: The Abandoned Colony lets us be a part of the discovery of the first English colony in the New World; American Holocaust: The Conquest of the New World teaches us about the holocaust that took place in America; and Only Four Escaped lets us feel the drama in the sinking of a submarine. There are books about any subject we can think of from mysteries to real life.

Words, especially those strung together by great writers, such as Dickens, Shakespeare, and Hawthorne, teach us to open our minds to discovering new ideas and new worlds, to feel and experience life through the writer's characters by facing their challenges. We can be emotionally involved as we step back to evaluate the situation and the consequences which the characters are experiencing while they take the course they are on, as d'Artagnan did when he decided to pursue the Lady de Winter in Dumas 'The Three Musketeers, or we can learn about our prejudice in To Kill a Mockingbird with Boo Radley and Tom Robinson.

There are a number of people who never had the opportunity to graduate from college, let alone high school, but because they continued reading they became successful: Andrew Carnegie, Walt Disney, and Malcolm X. They improved themselves by reading and set an example for all of us.

If we encourage our children to read, they will learn to think and not be manipulated by advertisers who tell them that these cookies are "fat free" implying that they can eat the cookies and not gain weight. What the advertisers fail to say is that when sugar enters their body, guess what? It turns into fat.

Reading has been a big part of my life, and I can't image life without books. The great men and women who lived and live that have shaped and are shaping our world from Aristotle to Colin Powell have and are informing us of valuable information. So pick up a book and enjoy a new world filled with all kinds of wonder.