As published in the Blytheville Courier News on Wednesday, August 5, 2015
Mark Twain said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” But, how can one travel when one is poor? How can one travel widely when one has to work all the time just to make ends meet? One may easily travel extensively through books! One can actually time travel, if they desire, every time they pick up a book. Book connoisseurs are world travelers, explorers, conquerors and active participants in the events written about. Book lovers, whether they admit it or not, recognize and love hiSTORY. They see the unfolding, exciting, entertaining, tragic, romantic, dramatic, comedic epic of mankind and the entire known world!
What would I have felt seeing some of my dead brethren screaming and scattered across the battlefield of Shiloh during the violent thunderstorm at midnight as gunboats fired loud rounds over our heads every fifteen minutes? What would I have done if I had to join other settlers in “circling the wagons” on the Great Plains as a Comanche raiding party stormed toward us? Would I, as a German peasant, have cried for joy or howled in disgust the first time I held in my hands a mass produced Gutenberg Bible? What would I have felt, if I as a man received a pair of pantaloons in the mail from some woman in the 1860s just because I had not volunteered for war (regardless of the reason)? How scared would I have been to step off the Mayflower into a new world, confronted by “savages”, an unknown land and approaching bad weather? What would I, as a Native American, have thought seeing DeSoto first fire his loud, magic fire-sticks and then erect a massive cross on the banks of the Mississippi River?
What would my life be like today if I had never had the pleasure of reading the magical, romantic words of William Shakespeare or the gritty, honest words of William Faulkner? My life would be extremely incomplete and almost unbearable had I not been introduced to books. I’m talking about old, musty, crinkly pages of a well bound and well written book. The older the better. I’d gladly trade my cellphone, the internet, my television, all of my hobbies and many of my acquaintances in a heartbeat rather than give up books. I will never have too many books and I will never have enough bookshelves. When I walk into a bookstore or a well stocked library, my heart beats faster and my breathing changes. It is as though I have walked upon a literary buffet and I want to gobble down everything there!
Great men (and women) are created through great books. It is impossible to be well educated absent of reading. Great books are not all high-brow or high-dollar. They can be written by famous worldly authors such as Theodore Roosevelt and Ernest Hemingway or they can be written by local nobodies such as myself. Good books matter far more than their authors do.
One may read a good historical novel that has been well researched by its author and learn far more and get a much more accurate feel for a location or an era by reading a historical novel than by spending years thumbing through history textbooks. What is important is that the book offers something genuine and honest. Traditional literature such as poems, plays and sonnets enrich us when they are genuine, gritty and speak to honest humanity.
Believe me when I say that I have traveled the seven seas and visited just about every continent on Earth, but I have never been farther than seventy kilometers from the American Border (into Canada). I have done so through books. I have seen the dirty streets of London in Victorian England and met the noble Bow Street Runners that fought crime there. I have wretched at the stench of death in medieval Europe as well as admired the closeness of family among the Lakota Tribe of the Black Hills and the Mandinka Tribe of the Gambia. I can tell you how difficult it was to travel around the Cape of Good Hope and how sexy the Chinese have found the picking and serving of tea to be.
Professors can argue about why my ancestors did what they did, conveniently in a way that fits current political correctness or political agenda’s, but once I read books or diaries written from that time period, I can hear the voices of my forefathers tell me in their own words what happened and why they did what they did. Sure, I know that they can sometimes lie also. Nevertheless, I am not spoon-fed what someone wants me to think about the past. I form my own educated opinion from multiple first hand accounts.
Mark Twain was completely right, without traveling (in books), I would be far more narrow-minded and ignorant. Books are of inestimable value and if you aren’t a reader, you should start today. If you are, then you probably agree with what I’ve been saying and I encourage you to spread the infectious love of books to others. We desperately need the book lovers disease to become an epidemic once again.