I am a reader. By which, I mean to say, reading is not simply one of the many activities that make up my day. For me – and I suspect many others – reading is an essential part of my identity; it is a natural and constant part of my life. I eat, I sleep, I pray, I read – at this stage in my life, reading is less a choice than a basic daily need. In between Torah study, diaper changing and making lunches for the kids, reading a book (or books) always finds a place in my day, however hectic the day might be.
For much of my life, I unthinkingly considered the act of reading to be an absolute, unadulterated good. The underlying message of the children’s television show, Reading Rainbow (“I can go anywhere…”) – reinforced by my parents and teachers – was that good kids read. Simple as that!
But why? What value is there in spending our limited leisure time on our own, curled up on the couch with a book?
Before diving into high minded justifications for immersing ourselves in books, let’s be honest: reading can be addictively pleasurable. A good author captures our attention and emotions; we are absorbed, fascinated, even carried away, as the words on the page come alive and evoke powerful feelings of identification and sympathy. And reading also offers a more sophisticated form of pleasure; that of “being in the close company of someone more thoughtful than you but whose thoughts, owing to the courtesy of clarity, are handsomely accessible to you. (Joseph Epstein, The Intimate Abstraction of Paul Valery).
But pleasure alone doesn’t capture the subtle but very real importance of reading literature. As Rav […]