COLUMN: Books are immortal
Dayton Clark, The Oklahoma Daily
Libraries have always been sacred and mysterious places to me. They charge no fee for checking out a book, yet I find I am often alone strolling through the aisles.
I walk through shelf after shelf lined with books. They all whisper to me, begging to be read, 10,000 different voices telling their own story. The murmurs continue until I place my finger on the spine of the perfect book. At that moment, I can only hear one voice.
A book is deceptively simple. All I have to do is take it off the shelf, open it and begin to read. Thus starts a new adventure. If it bores me, I can just as easily close it gingerly and place it back on the shelf until someone new decides to take another look.
My obsession with reading overwhelmed me one day during the summer before third grade. I laid in my bed reading various library books from L. Frank Baum's Oz series. I kept at it so long that I perceived nothing besides the words scrolling by on the page. No outside sound or sight interrupted my thoughts because none of them entered my consciousness.
The words on the page seemed strangely real. Individual letters took on personalities: the common, unadorned o; the feminine, slim l; and one of my favorites, the fleeting and elegant capital Q. Ten hours later, I could see faint inscriptions in front of my eyes each time I heard a spoken word. I enjoyed this side effect.
The one thing I dreaded was the horrid pain I felt in my eyes. When I came to the end of a line, my eyes were accustomed to quickly skipping ahead to the next one. After doing this thousands of times, the skip became painful, as if I had been stretching dough all day and it had become too strained to be stretched any more.
The act of reading is crucial to me. I don't remember ever not knowing how to read.
It has taught me much. First of all, there is no reason ever to be bored. I always try to keep books close by. Whenever I have nothing to do, I can open one up and read about virtually any subject I want, and not just the literature — spectacular or horrendous — students must read in school. If I read for long enough while undisturbed, I forget about life and focus only on the isolated problem described in the book. Eventually, my mind slows down and is able to concentrate on just one fictional conflict. That's a very simple way to relieve stress.
Books are often overshadowed by their more visual, vibrant counterparts: movies and TV shows. Strangely, I find myself more attracted to the quiet confidence of books. In a book, I encounter the inner dialogue of a person, something that fascinates me, especially since the only inner dialogue I hear in real life is my own. When I read a book, I determine the pace, the sound of each character's voice in my own head and what will be reread, perused or skimmed.
Above all else, I think reading breeds creativity. With a book, little or no visuals are supplied for you. You have to turn those rusty cogs in your head in order to create them yourself. As a result, there are no bad special effects in reading. They can always be tuned just to your liking.
At the end of a movie, I am usually asleep. Ironically, the strong mixture of visuals and audio seem to put me into a trance that begs me to close my eyes and take a rest. At the end of a book, I am wide awake and usually reluctant to say goodbye to the characters I have met. In a way, they feel like they are my own. The author created them for the book, but I formed them in my own head. I hold a unique representation that is different from the one my neighbor will hold.
If the book is well-written, I also tend to realize at the end the implicit message the author was plodding me toward all along. I am always impressed by the gentle persuasion of a novel.
Many people think books are on their way out due to new technology and new media. I don't think they will ever die out completely. New technologies tend to enter the market without fully wiping out their old counterparts. Television did not extinguish the radio, DVDs did not kill the theater and eBooks have not replaced traditional books. If anything, books are more accessible now, with sites like Project Gutenburg offering old classics and eBooks becoming more popular.
If the day ever comes when books die out, it will not be because anyone has prohibited reading or told us it's something we shouldn't do — it will be because we have chosen freely to do otherwise, and that will be a shame.
Tom Rains is a Spanish senior.