By ROBERT PRICE
I SUPPOSE it isn’t theft if the victim is your father. And if he knows you’re stealing from him.
On that summer long ago, I could buy a comic book for under a dollar. So could my brother. All we had to do was sneak enough coins from the jar on my father’s dresser to make our daily purchase.
For me, the best purchase was another instalment in Bruce Banner’s miserable life.
Every issue of The Incredible Hulk told the same story: Banner found solitude, peace, or something or someone to love, and in a fit of rage, he’d lose it all and wake up wasted in torn purple pants wondering how he could go on.
The comics I loved as a boy don’t hold up so well now and a lot of it makes me cringe. But they got me reading, and prepared me for the better books I’ve gone on to read and the strange turns my life has taken.
Life without reading is like losing a sensation, like taste – everything’s as bland as batter
I’m not so old but I am a dinosaur, alectorisaurus libelli, a reader of books. I don’t like to leave my bedroom, let alone the house, without something to read (you never know when you’ll get stuck on the bus – or in the kitchen). Yet most of my students, who are not much younger than me, rarely read. Rarely read for pleasure, rarely read for school.
It’s a fact most teachers will readily confirm – and confirm sadly. Because these students have suffered a loss and they don’t even know it.
Life without reading is like losing a sensation, like taste – everything’s as bland as batter. It’s like losing a dimension – the world is a pancake.
Suffering through this soul-emptying, slow-motion crisis, teachers grope for evidence to support a culture of reading.
The worst of these is the empathy argument. Studies show, teachers say, that people who read are more empathetic.
Empathy isn’t a bad thing but as many have already pointed out, we have a shortage of compassion, not empathy.
But anyways, who cares, it’s a dumb reason to pick up a book – and every student who’s been hectored in this way about his abysmal reading habits knows it.
Read for wonder, amazement, fascination. For vision, ideas, words. Feast on fact, consume the counterfactual. Drink down the antidotes to dogma. Put the world under a microscope or look in the mirror. Meet the stranger.
But really, the only good, lasting reason to read is pleasure. To laugh, gape, groan, to have another world built inside your mind, to desire completion and receive it – that’s the pleasure found in reading.
If it’s not pleasurable, you haven’t found the right book. Or else you haven’t made yourself available in the right way. G.K. Chesterton said it right: “There are no uninteresting things, only uninterested people.” If books bore you, you’re probably boring. Stop being boring.
Books can change a life, too, and that’s pleasure. Someone at some point some time ago made the same mistake you did. They found a way out and wrote it down for you. Books are a way out. They map the journey out of hell and show a new vista. All the pain and confusion can be put in perspective by a different point of view.
What a gift. What a pleasure. And all so close at hand. It’s on a shelf and waiting, downloaded in seconds or easily found with a library card or a pocket of stolen coins.
Robert Price is a communications and professional writing instructor at the University of Toronto.
© 2017 Distributed by Troy Media