Thursday, February 22, 2007

Old Friends

On the right side of my bed are shelves full of Reader's Digest magazines, condensed book compilations, hardcover books, paperbacks and news magazines.

They represent only a fraction of the variety of reading materials the members of our family have individually or collectively acquired over the decades. The love of reading is strongly ingrained in us and is reflected in the often untidy piles of books and magazines scattered all over the family house, a messy situation that our mother, who is obsessed with order and cleanliness, loudly complains about unceasingly almost everyday yet has gradually come to reluctantly accept as the norm in our case.

There is often a light musty smell about these shelves, a a subtle odor of faded ink and old paper that may not appeal to the more fastidious. Yet for those like me, the smell is an aroma that brings back warm memories, memories of the hours and hours spent in close communion and contemplation with these noblest inventions and creations of the human mind, countless hours of unqualified pleasure, instruction and learning from the the vast storehouse of recorded human knowledge and experience.

When I was ill and confined to my bed, they were my constant companions. They dialogue with me and speak to my mind. They answer hard questions and ask harder questions in return. They turn back time and show me how the world used to be or speed time up and try to show me the world as it might be. They tell stories of other peoples in other lands, of strange things and unusual events, of love, romance and high adventure, of wars and conflicts between nations and empires, of man's greatest achievements and his monumental failures. And they tell the story of man and his rise from the bestiality of his past and his quest for the Godlike in himself.

Our friendship has been long and beneficial to me. And like true and loyal friends, they have never failed me and have continued to bring me untold joy, satisfaction and the privilege of being able to drink greedily, time and time again, from the mythical fountain of human knowledge and come away blessed and a little more enlightened each time.

Aldous Huxley, the English novelist and critic, summed it up nicely when he wrote, “Every man who knows how to read has it in his power to magnify himself, to multiply the ways in which he exists, to make his life full, significant and interesting."

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