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July 9, 2017

11:27 PM

Good advice from great writers about the importance of reading

Francisco Miraval

I must confess that when, several years ago, somebody suggested I should read “A Wild Sheep Chase”, a novel by Haruki Murakami, my immediate reaction was to ask: What? Who? What’s this novel about? and Why?

It was not easy for me to read that book. Eventually, I read four other novels by Murakami. Yet, in each case, I was left with the feeling I understood little and possible nothing of the symbolism of those novels, of the meetings and misunderstandings of the characters, and of the blurry line between reality and fantasy.

In several occasions, I asked myself why I was reading Murakami’s novels. After all, it is a challenge to read a Japanese writer. Yet, regardless of the difficulties, I found the reading enjoyable and beneficial.

Then, years later, I found an answer to my question, an answer provided my Murakami when he said, “If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everybody else is thinking”.

Murakami is right: it is not enough just to read. For our mind to expand, we also need to think when we read and thanks to our reading. Thinking and reading together is the opposite of what

Ortega y Gasset (I think it was him) once described as the “mental skating” on a page.

This connection between expanding our readings and expanding our minds is widely known and accepted. In fact, Borges once said that the universe itself is but a vast library and he also said something like, “The limits of my library are the limits of my world”.

In that context, reading books that others are not reading means, so to speak, that we are expanding the limits of our world and, as a consequence, expanding our own connection with the Universe. At the same time, those readings create a new form of internal dialogue and dialogue with others. And the new dialogue is a good antidote against becoming addicted to our own ideas, the worst and most dangerous of all addictions, according to Richard Rohr.

Obviously, reading books is not the only way of accessing information. In fact, books didn’t even exist during most of human existence and, where books were finally available (clay tablets, manuscripts, printed), most books were restricted to a lucky few and unavailable to most people.

In our time, however, we enjoy a superabundance of books, either printed or electronic copies. Many books are free or low cost and they cover all imaginable topics and appeal to all kinds of readers.

However, there is no point in having a superabundance of books if nobody reads them. And there is no point in just reading the books with internal or external dialogue. It is as useless as searching for a mysterious and fantastic sheep (or was it a rat?) in post-WWII Japan.

But when the books truly open our minds, then, we could say we are creating our own library (or “biblia”, to use the word in Greek.)

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