By Maggie Nixon, English Faculty
Books Are Better Than People
Or, the more accurate and less eye-catching, Why I Read Books
When I was in first grade, my brother and I got a really cool gift for Christmas. Or for a birthday. Or randomly. I don’t really remember when we got it – but it was really cool. It was a “design your own plate” kit–you drew your designs on a white circular piece of paper, shipped it off to a company, and in a few short weeks, BAM, you had plates with your drawings on them. My brother and I each made two plates. His were the “My Mom is Great” and “Hamerhead Shark” plates. He couldn’t spell yet. The misspellings resulted from me trying to be a teacher. I also made two plates. The first was the “Hawii” plate where I drew a lovely picture of a beach and wrote about the 50th state. Jokingly, my father refers even today to my misspelled “Hawii” as the 51st state. My second plate was a little wordier. The plate proclaims, “A Book is the World to Me,” complete with a drawing of Nancy Drew #29; the proclamation, “BOOKS BOOKS READ BOOKS;” and my name drawn in fabulously multicolored cursive.
My parents still have these plates, and I still have books. Undoubtedly, I receive a lot of questions about reading. Why do you read so much? How do you have the time? What’s your all-time favorite book? The second and third questions are easier to answer than the first. I have time because I make time – I try to read every night before bed, I read while I eat dinner, and I read when I want a break from grading. As for the third question: choosing one title as an answer is a ridiculous notion! (please, see the lists of favorites at the end of this essay)
But, that first question. . . I read for a number of reasons. I find it fun. I enjoy stories, and I find beauty in the written word. Reading lets me travel space and time without moving from my couch. Reading enables me not only to observe the experiences of others, but also to see from their perspectives. Most importantly, though, reading promotes and develops creativity and imagination, two traits that I believe television and video games diminish.
As the students in my Orange section of Writing Workshop will tell you, I have a rule about books made into movies. Never, ever, ever, ever, ever tell me that you’ve seen the movie but have not read the book. There are movies I refuse to see because I have not yet read the book (Unbroken). There are also movies I refuse to see because I loved the book so much that I worry a movie version will somehow negatively impact my appreciation for the text (Gone Girl).
Movies are faster, this goes without saying, but is that necessarily a good thing? In an age of interconnectivity and instant gratification, we are increasingly drawn to the quickest solution or the fastest answer for our problems. We wish there were more hours in a day and days in a week because we never seem to have enough time. Our ideas are 140 characters and our videos are six seconds, but stories were meant to be told in acts and scenes, in volumes and chapters. It is when we slow down and spend more time with a text that we develop a greater appreciation and understanding for the messages, themes, and emotions contained within it.
Books make us think. Television and movies do all the thinking for us. If you’re like me, you don’t like to be told how to think, and books grant you the freedom to craft and imagine the words contained between two covers. When reading, you are limited only by the extent of your imagination, rather than by a production budget or by the current trends in special effects. There is never a character who “doesn’t look right” or a scene that “doesn’t fit.” In other words, you are more present and accepting of the story when you are the one contributing to its creation. This is what I think is the most important part about books – they are not a spectator sport. When you read, you are not simply absorbing words from the page like a sponge. You are chewing on them, stretching them, trying them on for size, or scraping them from the sole of your shoe. Reading is a conversation between you, the author, the characters, other authors, your prior knowledge, your hopes, your fears, and so many other players. The written word is not meant to be accepted blindly; it is meant to be lived! I have thrown books across rooms in frustration. I have slapped a book closed while shouting “PLOT TWIST!” in college, though in that instance I nearly gave a studying roommate a heart attack. I have highlighted favorite quotes and emailed authors in response. I have laughed aloud with Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? and cried over The Song of Achilles. I have argued vehemently with friends about whether or not Harry Potter should have died in book seven.
So, ultimately, what is the point of writing this? Well, hopefully, you’ll be convinced to go do some more reading. I want to challenge you–if you’ve made it this far–to read a book this Window. Choose something that interests you or something that a friend has recommended. Read something that is not assigned to you! I’ve decided to include a few lists of books to check out (library pun intended). I’ve listed some young adult books, some short classics that you should go read before college, and some of my all-time favorites. These lists are just the tip of the iceberg, though. I hope you can go out there and find a book worthy of putting on a plate. Happy reading!
Ms. Margaret Nixon is a member of the English Department at St. Mark’s. She received her B.A. in English and her M.Ed. in Secondary Education from Boston College. Ms. Nixon coaches Girls’ Thirds Soccer and lives in Thayer House.
Ms. Nixon’s Top Contemporary Young Adult Reads
The Fault in Our Stars
The Impossible Knife of Memory
Daughter of Smoke and Bone
Ready Player One
His Dark Materials Trilogy
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
Ms. Nixon’s List of Short (!) Must-Read Classics
Of Mice and Men
The Bell Jar
The Lord of the Flies
Drop Everything in Your Life and Go Read These Ones
To Kill a Mockingbird
The Bell Jar
Ready Player One
Harry Potter Series
The Giving Tree (Try reading this one now that you’re older… seriously)
The Song of Achilles
Of Mice and Men
I Am Malala
A Thousand Splendid Suns