How books make me better
It’s no secret that I’m a lover of books. But I’m also a lover of running and biking and swimming, and writing, and hosting dinner parties, and exploring the city, oh, and mindlessly scrolling through Facebook and Instagram, and procrastinating, and lazing around doing nothing when there are important or enriching or life-giving things to be done. So, with all those options, both very worthwhile and less so, why bother reading? And I mean the old-fashioned kind—the book in your hands, chapter by chapter, cover to cover, bookmark that beckons when your eyelids protest at the end of the day kind.
Well, I’ve been pondering this question, and I’ve come up with just a few reasons:
Books teach me to listen.
I have plenty of growing to do in this area. But luckily I have plenty of people to help, too. There’s Anne Shirley with a penchant for melodrama that exasperates Marilla, and Miss Bates who drones on and on, much to Emma’s chagrin. Whether the characters I come across are mildly chatty or downright insufferable, they invite a certain resolve on my part to listen attentively. (And unlike in real life, I can roll my eyes unseen or scan to the end of their monologues.)
Books require patience and determination.
Les Mis was especially good for this. 1200 pages was quite the literary marathon. I’d mark my page with the book’s little red ribbon, watching my steady progress over the weeks that I read it. Yes, I did skip over the entirely unnecessary and inconsequential depiction of the Battle of Waterloo, but otherwise, I read it devotedly, plowing through the pages graced by Monseigneur Bienvenu and stumbling my way through the sewer with Jean Valjean. It was hard work, but I made it.
Books open my eyes to worlds vastly different from my own.
I recently finished a fascinating memoir by a friend of my mom’s. I’m the One Who Got Away follows Andrea through her years being raised by a single mother, encountering her alcoholic father, discovering love and healing and redemption. I live a somewhat sheltered life, but books like that draw me out from my safe perch and encourage me to encounter a greater fullness of human experience. They help me leave my comfort zone behind, at least for a few hundred pages.
Books help me grow in self-knowledge.
Jane Austen is a gem for this reason, and countless others. I see myself in Emma’s know-it-all nature, and in Lizzie’s stubbornness, and in Anne’s silent suffering. As the characters themselves embark on journeys of self-discovery, being humbled and tested and affirmed along the way, they take me with them. I find myself arriving at unexpected revelations about my own nature, from pesky flaws I haven’t noticed to budding virtues I’ve been working hard at. By reading, I continue to learn who I am.
Books give me a heart for others.
When reading, I climb into a person’s skin and walk around in it, as Atticus Finch notably said. As I make my way through a book, I come to understand its characters more deeply, even intimately, whether they’re fictitious or not. I’ve cried over the numberless injustices Jean Valjean faced. I’ve yearned for Captain Wentworth with Anne. I’ve even delighted with Julia Child over a poached pike served with a good cream sauce. Books welcome me to share in the mundane and momentous stuff of life with people I’ll never meet, helping me to open my heart to those right under my nose.
As you can see, books do make me better. And there’s ample improvement left to be done. So, I’d better be off—I’ve got some books waiting.