Imagine there’s a world without books. Without authors.
But also — much worse.
No holy books, no Shakespeare, no novels, none of the eight million books currently available on Amazon.
We depend on books, whether on paper or digital, for far more than we know.
Do we take them for granted?
Books Open Our Imaginations
Did you know that when the people in charge of prisons want to predict how many “spaces” they’ll need in the future, they base their algorithm on the number of current ten and eleven-year-olds who can’t read?! Author Neil Gaiman opened his lecture to the Reading Agency with that grim statistic.
Gaiman’s point was that fiction serves as a gate-way drug to reading itself. The desire to turn the pages and learn what happens next is the force that creates literate people, who are also more empathetic people, more creative, freer, peaceful people.
Books Help Us Accumulate Wisdom
If we enter another person’s world (the special gift of memoir), we leave that world better able to understand another personality, culture, and perspective. We are changed. Memoir helps us empathize with struggles, whether or not we have experienced them ourselves. A good memoir extracts wisdom from experience. It leaves a legacy — and we are the beneficiaries! Finding a good memoir is like discovering you had a rich uncle who left you a million dollars.
Authors Save Our Lives While Saving Their Own
Obviously only a few authors become rich and famous.
What keeps the others writing and publishing when they don’t gain material rewards?
The best reason is that they have to write. They have taken Rilke’s test in Letters to a Young Poet
and passed it:
This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple “I must,” then build your life in accordance with this necessity; your while life, even into its humblest and most indifferent hour, must become a sign and witness to this impulse. Then come close to Nature. Then, as if no one had ever tried before, try to say what you see and feel and love and lose. Don’t write love poems; avoid those forms that are too facile and ordinary: they are the hardest to work with, and it takes great, fully ripened power to create something individual where good, even glorious, traditions exist in abundance. So rescue yourself from these general themes and write about what your everyday life offers you; describe your sorrows and desires, the thoughts that pass through your mind and your belief in some kind of beauty – describe all these with heartfelt, silent, humble sincerity and, when you express yourself, use the Things around you, the images from your dreams, and the objects that you remember.
Must I write? Young Poet Angela M. Carter has selected this phrase to describe why she writes: Poetry Saved My Life.
When poetry, fiction, and memoir save the author’s life, they save many others. When the open the author’s imagination, they free other spirits. When they solidify the wisdom gained in one life, they add to the world’s precious store.
So do something revolutionary. Read a book. Hug an author.
No, on second thought. Hugs aren’t enough. Buy a book or at least check one out of the library. Then write a review online. You will make someone’s day.
And you will make the world a better place.
Now it’s your turn to add to the list of reasons we need books. I know I have just scratched the surface of this question.
Please offer your thoughts below. I’m not the only author who wants to hear from you!