Like many love affairs my adoration for books began with considerable resistance on my part. Until I was around eleven I was pretty neutral towards reading. Back then I was far more enamored by early Saturday mornings spent in front of a television than hours of staring at a bundle of paper.
Then one day my parents came up with an ingenious plan I couldn’t refuse; in lieu of an allowance they agreed to pay me one penny for every page I read. As an eleven-year-old I figured I could make bank with this plan. I still remember the next day, going to the library empty-handed, and walking out with a pile of books stacked under my chin, eager to make a whopping $10 over the next few weeks.
What began as a monetary incentive to dive into the world of reading soon morphed into a genuine love for books and what they could unlock—new characters, settings, histories, and fantastic storylines I had never before imagined.
From that day on reading has opened up the world to me in amazing ways. Like a man with poor eyesight gazing up at the stars and only seeing the 10 or 12 most prominent points of light, I had been missing much of the world that was right in front of me. What I needed was to look at the world through the right lens. So, much like that nearsighted man who gapes in awe the first time he looks at the night sky through corrective lenses, reading became my means for seeing and experiencing exciting worlds I never knew existed.
Through books, I have sat at the feet of Shaharazad as she wove an intricate tale for one thousand and one nights, demonstrating the power of words to save a life.
Through books, I have tasted the briny saltwater on my lips as I sailed the open seas through pirate-infested waters, giving me courage to face the unknown with an adventurous spirit.
Though books, I have felt fear constrict my heart as I sat white knuckled in a dust-filled basement, waiting to breathe my last breath as bombs exploded overhead in Nazi-Germany, revealing history in a way I had never previously known.
Through books, I have walked unannounced into the presence of the King beside Queen Esther as she risked her life for the people she loved and was called to protect, learning what it means to live with bold faith even in the face of danger.
I have done all of this and more, never once having to leave the comfort of my home. I have walked in the shoes of heroines, farm boys, and princesses, all the while learning to walk a bit like them in my own life.
Since graduation I have been living a book-lover’s dream, spending countless hours alone by the fire, nursing a cup of coffee, and reading classics by Tolstoy, Lewis, and Bonhoeffer…along with some equally-brilliant (and a few not-so-brilliant) contemporary authors.
If you would like to begin living a life of adventure the best piece of advice I can offer is this: open up a book and start reading.
By learning to see the world through the eyes of authors from different eras, countries, religious backgrounds, and political parties, two important things will happen. First, you begin to foster an empathetic heart as you learn to feel what an author feels by seeing what he sees, and hearing what he hears, even if his experience is very different than your own. Second, you will discover how the mystery and complexity of the human experience is unraveled through the labored pen strokes of each author. What we might initially fear because of its “differentness,” we may find is nothing that deserves our fear. As we begin to dismiss our biases, the impenetrable walls we have built around our worldview begin to crumble, allowing love to replace fear.
If it’s true that in the end all of our actions are rooted in either fear or love, I believe reading is perhaps the best and most accessible tool we have to learn to live by love. The reason is simple: once you start to see the world through the lens of love, living with hope, courage, and adventure becomes a far less daunting task.
And so, dear reader, my challenge to you is to unplug from the daily distractions of life for an hour. Pick up a book you think is too complicated or, perhaps, too simple (some of the best books are written for children …*cough* The Chronicles of Narnia), crack it open, and start your own love affair with reading.