“My tread scares the wood-drake and wood-duck, on my distant and day-long ramble;
They rise together—they slowly circle around.” — Walt Whitman, Song of Myself
My ordinary view on rambling is that it should be limited to the young and to the old, but I’m in the particular kind of mood you have to be in to ramble. Which is to say I’m feeling reflective and open — a dangerous combination. What follows are some of the ways books have changed me:
I used to rely on people to make me read until I learned to read on my own.
I used to be bored until I learned that, with the assistance of a book, my mind is a new playground everyday.
I used to think I was interested only in philosophy texts until I realized that any story worth reading offers a new way to live.
I used to spend time reading book lists and plotting my reading course until I realized that was akin to trying to plan every phase of your life.
I used to avoid some books, because I thought each had to teach me a lesson, until I realized that a good book might mirror the murkiness of life.
I used to consider books sacred and I refused to write in them until I realized my annotations are my own thoughts and started valuing thoughts more than paper.
I used to look forward to trips to the bookstore, and I still do, but one day I realized I’d rather be reading if I had to choose between the two.
I used to think I needed complete silence to read until I realized the best Stoics could study in any environment.
I used to lose concentration when I read, sometimes mid-sentence, until I realized training yourself to read long books is like training yourself to run a marathon, you do it one sentence at a time just like you put one foot in front of the other to run.
I used to stare at the TV for hours, and I still watch on occasion, but now I get bored with TV long before I get bored with a book.
I used to joke about never reading War and Peace and now I joke about needing to read it again, soon.
I used to think of The Great Gatsby as a book you read in high school and then put away forever until I realized we need that book more as adults than ever and that it means something very different to read it at 32 than it did at 15.
I used to avoid Shakespeare on the page until I saw it acted in real life.
I used to be afraid of The Leaves of Grass until I read about the assassination of Lincoln and the Civil War and I realized I was avoiding a book that helped America be reborn.
I used to look down on certain books in an insecure attempt to prove I was better than the people who read them until I saw that a generation of readers could be born from a book series starring a wizard or a girl with a bow.
I used to think that men of action were heroes until I learned those men need education behind their action to pass as heroes.
I used to take books from the library and never return them, a sin, now I invite people over and give them books and hope they never return them, but instead send them out into the world where they’ll strike each new reader like a bolt of electricity, like they’ve struck me.
I used to think the reason to read was to win arguments until I realized the reason to read is to be keen enough to avoid them all together.
I used to see Jane Eyre as a strange Victorian princess until I read her encounter with St. John Rivers and saw Bronte’s depth of perception as expressed through Jane; now I consider her a friend that offers good advice.
I used to think that the Odyssey and the Iliad were books about one man until I realized they were books about all men.
I used to think the Bible was a prescriptive text until I realized it does a good job of identifying the pitfalls, but can never offer all of the answers; a good reader has to close the gap on their own.
I used to think a good movie would beat a good book until I read enough to be comfortable with the details of everyday life.
I could go on because a lot has changed. I don’t want to get too sappy, but I owe it to the books I’ve spent time with and the people, like you, who’ve shared your passion for reading with me. Thank you for helping me grow and for letting me ramble.