Monday, May 9, 2011
“What was the book that made you love reading?” a high school student asked me.
I had no answer. I couldn’t remember a time when I didn’t. But he could. He named The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo.
I was surprised by his choice. It’s an excellent book about following your dream, but it isn’t for young children. He must have read other books for school. Hadn't he loved any of them? He seemed so bright and articulate. How could he have spent all these years locked out from books?
There’s a moment in the movie The Miracle Worker when Anne Sullivan finds the key for her pupil Helen Keller. Anne has been unable to teach any language to Helen who is deaf and blind. As Anne vigorously pumps, water gushes over their hands while Anne’s fingers spell the word over and over again. W- A- T- E- R. And then, at long last, Helen understands. W- A- T- E- R is that wet, cold liquid so absolutely necessary for life. Helen drags her teacher around, demanding to know the word for each object. Helen had been aware of her surroundings. But now language enables her to grasp them.
We are isolated in our individual worlds. We think no one understands us. We think we suffer alone. And then one day a teacher or a friend says, “Have you read this?” Or maybe we find the book completely by chance. Somehow we discover that the words inside that garish or tattered cover are naming something necessary for our existence.
From that point on, our lives are different. Even if we read a hundred other books that we can’t “get into” as the saying goes, we still know that there will be ones that we can inhabit. Someone has put words to our sensations. Once that door has been unlocked, we can find our way into whole new worlds.
So -- what was the book that made you love reading?