The miracle of books

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(HOST) Books are summertime companions for many of us, but lately commentator Edith Hunter has been thinking about how books allow us to keep some very impressive company ideed.

(HUNTER) “Books are not lumps of lifeless paper, but minds alive on the shelves. From each of them goes out its own voice…by taking down one of these volumes and opening it, one can call into range the voice of a man or woman far distant in time and space, and hear them speaking to us, mind to mind, heart to heart.” – Gilbert Highet

I do a lot of reading these days, and I have been suddenly struck by the miracle of the written word. Few of us have the opportunity of meeting, face to face, the thinkers and leaders of our own day, much less the great thinkers and the great leaders from the past and from other cultures.

But, through the magic of a book, they can speak to us “mind to mind, heart to heart.” Think of being able to sit down with Socrates and Aristotle, with Spinoza and Rousseau, with John Adams and Abraham Lincoln, with Winston Churchill and Eleanor Roosevelt. But we can, in a sense, through the pages of books in which their thoughts and writings have been collected or their lives retold. True, in some instances, cultural differences may hinder our un- derstanding, but with some effort, this may be partially overcome.

“It is not true that we have only one life to live; if we can read, we can live as many more lives and as many kinds of lives as we wish,” wrote S. I. Hayakawa. Through the autobiographies or bio- graphies of saints and sinners, educators, social leaders, politi- cians; we can share their lives, “walk in the mocasins” of men and women who have left their mark on the world. Through the pages of fiction, we can put on lifestyles that we never could in real life. Through their plays and poetry, we can experience life in the word pictures and emotional insights of the great dramatists and poets.

Through the pages of books, we can become the contemporaries of some of the greatest minds and spirits that have lived on this planet. Time melts away. Walt Whitman was very much aware of this wonder. He wrote:

“…to one a century hence or any number of centuries hence….

When you read these words, I that was visible am become invisble,

Now it is you, compact, visible, realizing my poems, seeking me,

And that my soul embraces you this hour, and we affect each

other without ever seeing each other.

And that I can think such thoughts as these is just as wonderful,

And that I can remind you, and you think them and know them to

be true, is just as wonderful.”

All this because of the miracle of the printed page.

This is Edith Hunter on the Center Road.

Writer and historian Edith Hunter lives in Weathersfield Center. She spoke from our studio in Norwich.

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