Books Shape Ideals, Dreams
Posted on Wednesday, 23 May 2012
It’s sometimes said that we are what we eat. It could more truly be said that we are what we read. Reading is how we learn fastest about all those experiences other than our own. It's the principle means by which we learn our history, traditions and high culture.
This might be controversial but Western civilisation is inconceivable without the Bible. The greatest repository of the English language is Shakespeare. It's hard to be culturally fluent without some familiarity with both these immense stores of wisdom and human experience and that requires reading.
One of my teachers, Riverview's Joe Castley, admonished my Year Eight class back in 1971 to, I quote, "read with voracious appetite". This is one educational gem that I've retained and lived by, though so much has been forgotten.
Reading exposes us to the very best that's been thought and said and done. It can shape our ideals and dreams more readily even than our parents because it can encompass so much more than the contents of any one person's world. When I read recently of one of my adolescent authors G. A. Henty that his heroes were, I quote, "intelligent, courageous, honest and resourceful, yet also modest", I felt an immediate stab of recognition. This is what I always wanted to be and so often am not.
When my eldest daughter was leaving for Europe indefinitely recently, she asked me to send her the books that best encapsulated our Australian story. So, I'm assembling The Fatal Shore; both of Les Carlyon's Great War books; Cloudstreet; and Breath, (Tim) Winton's cautionary celebration of surf and sex. I am debating whether to include Nikki Gemmell's With My Body, wondering which particular horizons a parent should try to expand.
The corollary of reading is writing. What one person reads, another person has written. What's written is considered and reflected upon in a way that what's spoken often is not. By far the best way to develop one's thinking and to test one's ideas is to put them in writing.
Battlelines came out just a few months before I attained the leadership of my party. The test of intellectual leaders is the quality of what they write.
These are not easy times for the book industry but the recent agreement to amend the parallel importation rules shows that publishers are not frightened of competition and are confident that books can survive the online onslaught just as radio has survived TV and movies have survived DVDs. I never go anywhere without hard copy because you can't take the iPad to the beach or keep reading it on the plane.
The book symbolises our aspirations to learn, to teach and to understand. I salute the book, without which a thoughtful life is almost impossible.
23 May 2012
Source: The Australian