Last night I was hanging out with co-workers at our publishing house’s bookshop. Near closing time, a lady customer took a seat by the counter, one book in each hand. She was torn: “Which book should I get?”
“Why not both?” volunteered my friend Gracia, who’s from Sales and a certified booklover. (I mimicked a game show’s theme music for effects. Pressure, pressure.) Both books were novels (I didn’t catch the titles) and the only copies left. There was no guarantee either one would still be waiting for her on her next visit.
Our customer, we found out, started to enjoy reading at twelve when she got an entire set of Christian fiction books as a gift. And there was no stopping her since. Years later, we meet her in a bookstore tortuously pondering whether or not to let go of a rare find. (I have a feeling this dilemma plays itself countless times in her life.) As a high school teacher, she said that she shares her books to teenage girls in the hope that they too would be ushered into the wonderful world of reading.
Ask the bibliophiles you know and you’ll discover that most of them started their love affair with books early in life. A parent read to them every night; a ninang persevered in giving them books on their birthday—every year; a teacher pulled them aside and lent them a classic to check out; a principal detained them in the library for bad behavior.
The first book I owned was The Pied Piper of Hamelin, my prize in a poetry recitation contest in kindergarten. But the first books that really blew my mind away were C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia. I was ten and the books were lent to me serially by my English teacher (who later became my sister-in-law).
Then came the requisite (at least during my time) Bobbsey Twins, Hardy Boys, and Nancy Drew mysteries, followed by the cool Choose Your Own Adventure series. Now, as an adult, I gravitate to books that stir my heart and mind, and help me make sense of things—my faith journey, the human condition, glimpses of God’s hand at work.
I wouldn’t call myself an avid reader. I know some people who are far more into books than I am, delighting even in the smell and texture of the pages. But I certainly cannot imagine a life without books. Stripped of the opportunities to imagine endless what-ifs; to explore the workings of other minds; to participate vicariously in the experiences of others; to be challenged by truth and inspired to hope—A bookless life would be a tragic one.
I doubt if I would appreciate the power and beauty of the printed word now had it not been for encounters with books in childhood. Adult readers should propagate their kind by investing in the young ones in their lives.
Last summer I gave my little niece E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web; she enjoyed it so much she detests how the movie adaptation doesn’t stick to the book word for word. Her aunt, my sister, promised to bequeath to her the yellowed copies of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Men and Little Women when she turns twelve. The anticipation is killing her.
Every young person, I believe, should be given the chance to meet good books that can interest them. And, hopefully, that encounter will blossom into a lifelong friendship with these fascinating creatures of ink and paper.
“I guess I’ll just have to skip going to Jollibee for awhile,” the bookstore customer sighed as she finally reached her decision. She paid for the two books, clearly excited to find out what wonders await her inside the pages.
Maybe one of those two books, one day, will land in the hands of a young person, swinging open the doors to many worlds. Here’s hoping that reading will also captivate him or her, for a lifetime.
by Erwin Raphael McManus
Walking from East to West:
God in the Shadows