Regan: Read a Book

Or a haiku, something, anything!

by Joseph Regan | 4/18/19 2:05am

“The temple bell dies away/The scent of flowers in the evening/Is still tolling the bell.”

As a senior at Dartmouth, my time here shortens as the days lengthen. For me, this haiku represents the fading beauty of a familiar scene that I am soon to leave without ever forgetting. If I had not given myself some time to read before bed, I never would have had the chance to feel myself reflected in these words Bashō wrote a long time ago in a faraway place. I did read, though, and that melted all the world’s differences away into the goosebumps raised by a man from long ago who never even spoke my language.

Reading requires engagement with both oneself and the world. Books synchronize the mind with the heart as the reader draws up personal meaning for the words. Readers think about feelings and feel thoughts. Through their works, authors leave the reader a record of their search for meaning. People have every right to disagree with my sentiments, but I’d argue that they have yet to find the right book. Just words, yet sometimes they hit home.  

Many books stand as acts of rebellion that never fade into irrelevance. Leo Tolstoy, author of “War and Peace,” a text that some refer to as the greatest novel ever written, was known in his own time as a “netovshchik,” or naysayer. In an essay about “War and Peace,” professor of Russian Lynn Ellen Patyk wrote that “Tolstoy took great satisfaction in purposefully defying and confounding (that is, disappointing) the cherished beliefs and expectations of his contemporaries.” 587,287 words of literary jabs at his contemporaries, and my own contemporaries are still buying it 150 years later! The truth has no expiration date, and thanks to writers like Tolstoy, you can read all about it at your local library. Writers are worth reading when they bravely write to be read and demolish pretension with their words.

Favorite books act as mirrors that reflect who one was when first discovering the book and the changes that have manifested themselves since then. The older I get, the more I appreciate Ernest Hemingway the writer over Ernest Hemingway the man. Learning to make that distinction has enriched my understanding of a book like “The Sun Also Rises,” which ends with the famous question, “Isn’t it pretty to think so?” I read that line for the first time in high school and thought, “Pretty good.” Now, I finish “A Farewell to Arms” in college and my eyes tear up. Hemingway’s thoughts and feelings are frozen in ink while mine still move — as I change, his books remain as a poignant point of reference.

Reading is a basic activity that deserves more press than it gets. Recently, a professor asked my classics class of 16 how many people read the paper regularly. Just one other student raised a hand. I felt diminished. Reading the newspaper is an especially good habit to get into because it encourages engagement with the world of today. Newspapers are like global diaries: They inform the reader about the world as it is and form a record of humanity as we always have been. The more one reads, the more one comes to know the rhythm of the human condition. Books echo in us when their truth meets our own.

“From the very beginning nothing at all has lasted,” spoke Gilgamesh in the oldest written story on Earth. The “Epic of Gilgamesh” has lasted since 2100 BCE. Gilgamesh is gone, but his wisdom and his story remain everlasting. Literature presents a psychological profile of the writer and the written about. Say it truly and well and it waits for readers, whatever it is and whoever they may be.