Friday, August 29, 2014

Reading and Travel . . . Travel through Reading?

Let's get back to regularly-scheduled programming, shall we? I'm tired about writing about my travels. To be honest, I just don't think it's that interesting. And here's what: I think reading about the world can be just as educational as seeing it. I'll introduce a movie clip to show you what I mean:

Obviously my favorite part was when Matt Damon's character talks about getting an education through reading -- specifically, through checking out books from the public library. Later, of course, Robin Williams's character basically subverts that idea by saying something about how reading can't come close to experiencing "the real thing." Reading about the Sistine Chapel cannot compare, for example, to seeing its ceiling in person, nor can quoting Shakespeare's sonnets provide the depth of feeling that comes from loving someone for decades. Here, let's watch it:

Now, I get it. I really do. Traveling and seeing the world and experiencing things firsthand is extremely educational. It can also be life-changing. I can't deny that.

BUT. Reading is a wonder. The power of words and their impact on our minds is staggering to me. And good thing, too! Because there are millions of people in this world who cannot afford to travel and experience all the world has to offer firsthand. Travel is a privilege, and I think people who travel often sometimes forget that. Not too long ago, I was talking to some friends about traveling, and they both agreed that it fostered a sense of open-mindedness that couldn't quite be replicated through reading. How unfortunate if that truly were the case, though! Again, not everyone can afford to travel, and sometimes circumstances require that people live in the same place for years, decades, and even lifetimes.

Flannery O'Connor, arguably one of the best American writers of the 20th Century, suffered from lupus and had to live the last 14 years of her life in her small-town home of Milledgeville, Georgia. She wrote some of the most critically-acclaimed essays of her career during that time. Shakespeare, too, lived out his life in one relatively small corner of the world, and his writings influence the way we speak today. And scientists! Scientists discover all kinds of things without ever having seen them with their naked eyes! Think of Albert Einstein and his Theory of Relativity or Pythagoras and a spherical world!

I've been thinking a lot about this lately for two reasons: 1) an article, Stay Home: Travel Is Overrated, and 2) my recent move. I'll skip over the second reason because that's a post in and of itself and because the first reason is infinitely more interesting. There are some points on which I disagree with the author of the article, but there is one part in particular that I think deserves emphasis, and it is a line from Ralph Waldo Emerson's Self-Reliance. He said this: "Our minds travel when our bodies are forced to stay at home." I'll repeat it, in bold font:

"Our minds travel when our bodies are forced to stay at home."

I was recently told that I wasn't adventurous, and in that moment, I felt ashamed and self-conscious because the person was right. He was right, at least, in the popular meaning of the word. I don't travel the world (or get involved in extreme sports), and I often like to spend time at home with a good book. But adventure -- rather, travel (which is a large part of what he meant, I think) -- isn't virtuous or meaningful in and of itself. It can be exciting and fun, but it could have more impact if people paired it with reading and study.

Not too long after that person told me I wasn't adventurous, another person told me I was one of the most intellectually adventurous people he had ever met, and in that moment, I felt strong and good and fortunate that I grew up surrounded by books and literacy.

I'm going to try my hardest to read more books this year -- and not just "fun" books, but hard ones. I want to read books that make my head hurt . . . books that take me an hour to read ten pages. It's gonna be a good year.

Thing I'm thankful for: Internet connection!


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