Books are the Collective Soul of Humanity

Originally posted to Facebook on January 17, 2017.

I have an inherent distrust of anyone who doesn’t read. And by that I don’t mean the illiterate, I mean the unwilling.

“A room without books is like a body without a soul. ” – Cicero

I loved seeing what the President was reading (he was open about it) and his conversations with writers—his discussion with Marilynne Robinson which discussed her book Gilead and their mutual Christian faith was particularly memorable.

I’m currently reading American Prophets: Seven Religious Radicals and Their Struggle for Social and Political Justice — and fell more in love with the generous and luminous view of human work that Rabbi Heschel taught and lived; Hope in The Dark —who I am discussing with 40 or so strangers as we struggle with how live out social justice; The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (for my fourth time in as many years – it’s delightful) — where I live out a Nazi occupation of British Guernsey and how suffering can be endured through a love of books and the community that forms around that love, and Beowulf (Image Comics) — where exactly who the monsters are, and how they seem to be perpetual, is explored more in art than words and is also simply beautiful and gloriously fun. I peruse the poetry of Louis MacNeice, W.H. Auden, and Wallace Stevens several times a week. I linger in their liminal lyricality and feel the fellowship of others who endured events exceeding their immediate understanding.

In each I am connected with people and places and ideas that I would never encounter or discuss in everyday life. They expand my world, my awareness, and my empathy. They challenge my limited perspective and allow me to see and experience lives that I am otherwise oblivious too.

They make me more human—and I hope—more humane.

Through books we have connection to the collected story of humanity. We go beyond ourselves. Picking up a book is saying that “I am incomplete without this story. I am incomplete without these words. I want to hear from someone else, of someone or somewhere or something else, and see how that affects me.” It is an act of humility and curiosity and a model for how to live a life open to the greater world that exists beyond one’s own body and sense range.

So many lives and worlds to explore. To deny myself those experiences is to deny myself life. To choose to be absent from books is to choose to be absent from the soul of our collected humanity.

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.” – George R.R. Martin

Now finish Winds of Winter already, George. We are waiting…