When I was 19 reading was, for me, a ‘guilty’ pleasure. I would read whatever I could get my hands on. I would stay up till the early hours of the morning reading, promising myself just one more chapter. It was an escape from the world around me, but at the same time it broadened the horizons of my world, and it ordered, shaped, and solidified my thinking.
Reading helped me not just to make sense of my world, but to compare it to times and seasons past, to other places in the world, and to countless possible futures.
It opened my imagination to think of how the world could be; how the world should be. Not through some simple, idealistic slogan; but with all the conundrums and contradictions of life. It exposed me to a great many points of view I was blissfully unaware of, and it make me believe that I too could be courageous, honorable, wise, and even noble.
To say that I engrossed myself in reading is an understatement. I would read then reread; sometimes reading the same book 10 or 12 times.
At first I read stories, Enid Blyton, Tolkien, CS Lewis, Nevil Shute. I read Jules Verne and Jack London, The Cruel Sea, by Nicholas Monsarrat, I read Fitzpatrick’s Jock of The Bushveld again and again, Lloyd C. Douglas, Agatha Christie, W. E. Johns, Franklin W. Dixon, and Taylor Caldwell. I read Dalene Matthee, and Shakespeare (because I had to). I read comic books, Asterix, Tintin, Marvel, Archie, Spire; and of course I read the Bible… a lot!
Then I discovered the world of non-fiction. As my mind matured I found that was able to digest more complex ideas and theories directly from their source, instead of only through the lens of a story. I began to learn how to suspend my judgement as I dug deeper and deeper into comparative ideas.
I read whatever I could find by CS Lewis, I read GK Chesterton, I read about Blaise Pascal and about The Upanishads, and I got to understand a bit about Philosophy. I read Corey S Powell, and Michael Behe, and Augustine, and Luther, Howe & Strauss's The Fourth Turning, Ray Kurswell, William Easterly, Thomas Friedman, and Malcolm Gladwell. Clifford Hill’s The Wilberforce Connection remains one of the best books I have read. Darrow Millar, Stephen Hawking, Ian McKellar’s Now We Really Live; Thomas Cahill. I read a lot of good commentaries, Micheal Eaton, Ryle, Stott, Vine, AW Pink, Tozer, Spurgeon. And I read the Bible again and again, I got to discover the books within this One Book, the wisdom literature, the poetry, the letters. I read some classics, The Odyssey, Plato’s The Symposium. And then I discovered Søren Kierkegaard and the fact that Existential Philosophy has soundly trounced Epicureanism and the Utilitarians. I often go back to children’s books: Mark Twain, Rudyard Kipping, AA Milne’s outstanding poetry, and Jostein Gaarder’s book Sophie’s World.
My point is a simple one. We are in the process of removing reading as a pleasure from our lives, and this action comes at a cost we cannot afford. Even for those who like reading there are so few moments and spaces left to do it. The noise around us is deafening, it has invaded our bathrooms, our lunch rooms, our bedrooms; always calling, nagging, beeping, push-notifying. It is as demanding as a toddler that will never grow up, it shamelessly interrupts us all day long, and tragically, we let it! The noise is way too loud and incessant to focus our attention on any single thing for any meaningful period of time.
We now get our collective opinions from 140 characters or less, sound bites, late night comedy hosts, and movies. Our ideas are simultaneous, reactive, polarisingly simple, and sublimely idealistic. The guilty pleasures of our children are first person shooter games, YouTube, SnapChat, and Skyrim till the early hours of the morning. We are allowing them to narrow their thinking when they need to be broadening it.
We are becoming ethically bankrupt; incapable of holding opposing thoughts in our minds for necessary periods of consideration. We make decisions on the fly and we shoot from the hip. Our minds have become soft like clay, easily manipulated. We have little courage because we hold few, if any, convictions. Instead we are brash with bravado, and flush with ill-gained confidence. We have become a shadow of our former selves because we have stopped reading for pleasure.
We need to discipline ourselves, we must find places to pause and reflect again, to expose ourselves uninterruptedly to a collection of ideas we would never have found on our own. We need to read or we will die.
The thing is simply this... we know how to read; now we must just remember why.