Plenty of years when that big-mama school bus heaves around the corner, you know there are kids who haven’t done it. Who have just skimmed the books and are looking to fake it. Or who bought one of those cheaters’ guides generally written by grumpy PhD candidates that end up being more weirdly dense than the books whose themes they’re meant to elucidate.
All I know is, I pity all people who don’t do their summer reading. Why? Because when you read any book, its story starts spilling out like silken thread. Then, a page or two in, another ‘story’ begins taking shape alongside it, spooling up from your own mind.
It’s like the principle illustrated in the sewing machine: You press the pedal and an upper spool pays out a little ‘line’. At the same time, from underneath and inside the thing, a second, lower, spool does the same. In an instant these two lines meet, negotiate a secret handshake and there you have it: a stitch, followed by another and then another.
Pockety-Pock, it goes, Pocket-pock, as that mid-air kiss is repeated between the top and bottom threads. And the next thing you know you have a prom gown. Or a pair of slacks. Or sails for your sailboat if that’s what you needed.
Reading is like that too, only it’s your mind and the author’s mind that meet.
“Does this match my experience?” you ask yourself as your eyes move across the page. “Have I looked at things this way?” And if the answer is ‘no’ and what is described seems foreign to you, then so much the better. That means you’re walking a mile in the other guy’s shoes.
In fact, that’s actually why we read. is it not? In order to walk in the shoes of others?
I’ll admit I also read to slow down Time.
In this hurry-up culture, so much rushes toward us and then away. It’s like sitting on a high-speed train and looking out at the many scenes as they are presented, then snatched away; presented, then snatched away. Whole industries count on our being accustomed to this pace, designed to keep us restless and thinking we need new things all the time.
We don’t though. We don’t need new things. Back-to-School bargains or not, it’s never things we need to make a new start in our lives. All the real new starts come from hatching a new understanding, encountering new ideas fresh from the minds of others.
Thus, when my senior-in-high-school friend cracked open On the Road for his summer reading, so did I. When my freshman neighbor began on Lost Horizon, and The Last Days of Summer, I started in on them too, knowing that in both cases that we could talk about them afterward.
It wouldn’t matter if I had read some of these books before. That was another time and I was another person. I’d be a brand-new self reading these books because you know the saying: you can’t put your hand in the same river twice. The river changes moment to moment, as you do also.
These young people to me are companions on the journey; and I relish the chance to look at what they’re looking at and see life through their clear young eyes.