When I ask other authors what advice they would give to new writers starting out they almost invariably reply: “Read, read, read!” And they say it for good reason. Reading can transport us to realms unavailable to us in the real world. We can visit and revisit exciting people and adventures that we will never actually encounter in our daily lives. It allows us to access the wonders of the quantum universe even as it searches the cosmos for clues to our ultimate beginnings. Does the final underlying essence of all things or what Locke calls the material substratum really consist of tiny shimmering strings and eleven dimensions as Brian Green, Ed Witten and other theoretical physicists would have us believe, or is it something else, something currently and maybe permanently unfathomable? Whatever the answer to these perplexing philosophical questions no territory is off limits when reading even and especially the remote regions of the human heart. With the advent of National Poetry Month it behooves us to think again about reading, about its emotional flights and its illuminations.
Who, for example, has not cried in the fifth act of Cyrano de Bergerac as Roxanne learns of Cyrano’s love for her and Cyrano learns when it is too late that Roxanne was always in love with the author of the words she wears around her neck. . . in other words, Cyrano?
Who has not trembled with pleasure on reading the following lines from Elliot’s Burnt Norton as he explores time present and time past,
“Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Through the door we never opened
Into the rose garden.”
Not only is Elliot’s poetry poignant and beautifully wrought, it is positively haunting in terms of what might have been.
Like a magic carpet reading can take us as far as our imagination and inclinations allow, and then sometimes in directions we never dreamed of. When I was a boy I read the John Carter science fiction books by Edgar Rice Burroughs, creator of Tarzan. ‘A Princess of Mars’ was not only one of the most original books I have ever read it was one of the most romantic. John Carter an American who is mysteriously transported to Mars finds that on Mars he has special powers because the gravity is less. He can jump high in the air, and is much stronger than on earth. He falls in love with Deja Thoris, a princess of Helium (A major city on Mars) and pursues her when she is abducted by a Martian villain. I won’t tell you everything that transpires between them but you can bet that he saves Deja Thoris and wins her heart in a manner that will make you proud to be an earthling. On John Carter’s Barsoom (Mars) I learned that there is a fourth primary color. Think about that for a minute. I’ve thought about it all my life. What a simple but daring concept.
Reading is full of experiences like these; the collective wisdom of the ages is yours for the taking. Even the internet hasn’t dulled the pleasures of reading. There is virtually nothing you cannot experience in a book, and practically nothing you cannot find out. Reading is one of the greatest gifts mankind has ever given itself. . . it is a magic door through which you may access ideas and places hitherto beyond your ken and reach. On the other hand if you have read this far I suspect that I am preaching to the converted. Offer my words instead to some poor soul who needs them. Tell him or her to “read, read, read!” Trust me, they will never regret it.#
Lewis Burke Frumkes is the Director of The Writing Center at Marymount Manhattan College.