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In the Whirled: Why we need books more than ever

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 15 2012 5:00 a.m. MDT

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In July, I stayed in a house brimming with books. Bookshelf upon bookshelf lined the walls of each brightly colored room. The old house put my own book-saturated home to shame.

When I woke each morning, I stood in front of those shelves, selecting what to read from this literary buffet. I thumbed through old favorites. I studied unfamiliar titles. I pulled several from the shelves until the great stack under my arm became unwieldy and my family wondered between pages if I’d ever come up for air.

Among the books I read was the young adult classic “The Giver,” by Lois Lowry. The book is about a dystopian world in which there are no choices, no books and no memory.

After I finished the book, I sat stunned, breathless, overwhelmed and mortified. I thought to myself, “I will never, ever be the same again. “There was, etched on my soul, a heightened awareness to hug my children, keep their childhood alive, teach the power of choice and never take for granted my freedoms.

That is the power of a book.

In today’s information-rich world, there are many ways for us to learn. Yet I would argue that the power of the printed word still makes the most indelible impression. There’s a reason we’re commanded to read our scriptures every day, and not just log onto lds.org and watch Mormon Messages.

Most of us are familiar with the late Ray Bradbury’s novel “Farenheit 451.” In 1953, Bradbury wrote about a future when people took happy pills, watched (and talked to) wall TVs and slipped musical ear buds in their ears to drown out the silence. The central plot revolves around the firemen, whose job it was to root out the books and burn them to ashes.

Some of Bradbury’s futuristic musings are uncannily accurate, but we certainly haven’t come to burning books, at least in the physical sense. Instead, we’ve become masters of burning time. Our time is diluted with lots of busies: carpools, sports, decorating, music lessons, TV, video games and that vast chasm of information known as the Internet.

The entire book world is in turmoil right now. Bookstores are shuttering their doors and age-old presses are closing down. I met with a book editor this summer who told me, quite frankly, “Young moms aren’t reading books anymore. They’re on the Internet.”

Should this be a cause for alarm? What makes the book still relevant for us, and what exactly are we missing when we fail to crack those pages?

Do a search for famous quotes about reading, and you can find some real gems, like this one from Confucius:

“No matter how busy you may think you are, you must find time for reading, or surrender yourself to self-chosen ignorance.”

Or this one, from Edward P. Morgan: “A book is the only place in which you can examine a fragile thought without breaking it, or explore an explosive idea without fear it will go off in your face. It is one of the few havens remaining where a man's mind can get both provocation and privacy.”

And finally, this gem from Ray Bradbury himself: You don't have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.

And as an aside, I am still a proponent of the good, old-fashioned book, the kind with real paper pages. For one, our children don’t need to see us with another electronic gadget. To them it is just one more device standing between them and us. For another, the battery on a book will never die. Its technology will never change. It doesn’t need flashing lights or color to still be relevant.

Plus, there is something empowering about standing in front of a bookshelf, not virtual but real, with a thousand titles at my fingertips. I like that power to choose. I know that whatever book I choose will take me to another place. It will transform me.

And I will never be the same again.

Tiffany Gee Lewis lives in St. Paul, Minn., and is the mother of four boys. She blogs at thetiffanywindow.wordpress.com. Her email is tiffanyelewis@gmail.com

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