an ancient story painted on stone
Here’s what I believe: reading and thinking are perfect brain exercise, so we should drop the guilt we may feel for spending time enjoying reading. That’s like feeling guilty for taking time for an aerobics or yoga class. Of course, it’s good to cross train—to read novels and short stories and biography and memoir and poetry and all manner of nonfiction—but the point is, it’s okay to take pleasure in it all and to revel in the broad range of human experience.
Stories help us to survive life: Nietzsche said, “We have art in order not to die of the truth,” and, according to E. L. Doctorow, “Stories were once as important to survival as a spear or a hoe. They gave counsel. They connected the living with the dead. Stories distributed the suffering so it could be borne.”
So we read for our health.
As complex literature gives us nutritious meat to chew, we become better thinkers and citizens and friends. We find connections to others, and we find that Kafka was correct when he said, “A book is an axe to the frozen sea around us.”
Novelist Susan Vreeland suggests that through reading we imagine others’ lives, learn compassion for them, and innoculate ourselves against prejudice.
So we also read for the health of the world.
Readers tend to share their personal wisdom with others, giving counsel with their own stories; reading often helps us grapple with ideas too large for ourselves alone. As we fill ourselves with story, we are girding ourselves for the other rich tasks of our lives.
Try completing the following: Here’s what I believe . . .
What does story mean to you? What are the earliest stories you remember from your childhood?