If you are lost in a desert island, what is the
book you would most like to have with you? G.K. Chestertonís
choice is quite down-to-earth Ė Thomasís Guide to Practical
As in the case of Chesterton, books give us
access to knowledge and guidance. Books also provide us
entertainment and, sometimes, even become our close friends.
Books as teachers and guides
As a source of knowledge and guidance, books
reign high. "Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the
body," says Sir Richard Steele. And J Collier advises, "A man
may as well expect to grow stronger by always eating as wiser by
Such advice is not surprising if we listen to
Aldous Huxley, who says, "The proper study of mankind is books."
Nodding, Thomas Carlyle adds, "The true university of these days
is a collection of books." Further, Tony Benn views bookshops as
the one university everyone can enter while Lord Samuel defines
a library as thought in cold storage. And a success story comes
from Dylan Thomas, who reveals, "My education was the liberty I
had to read indiscriminately and all the time, with my eyes
"I would never read a book if it were possible
to talk half an hour with the man who wrote it," declares
Woodrow Wilson. So would we! However, there can be various
barriers between the writer and us Ė say geographical barriers
(the writer living in another country) or time barriers (the
writer being dead) Ė that make such half-an-hour conversations
improbable or even impossible. So the next best option available
is to read their books. "A good book is the precious life-blood
of a master spirit," says John Milton, "embalmed and treasured
up on purpose to a life beyond life." And Rene Descartes
reveals, "To read good books is like holding a conversation with
the most eminent minds of past centuries and, moreover, a
studied conversation in which these authors reveal to us only
the best of their thoughts."
Books for entertainers
The dazzling entertainment potential of books is
known only to the "bookworms". Mary Wortley Montague says, "No
entertainment is so cheap as reading, nor any pleasure so
lasting." The power of books is reflected in Amy Lowellís
All books are either dreams or swords,
You can cut, or you can drug, with words.
Books offer us the opportunity to live many
lives instead of one. "It is not true that we have only one life
to live," says Hayakawa, "if we can read, we can live as many
more lives and as many kinds of lives as we wish." However, not
all find reading entertaining. For example, Will Rogers
complains, "I never was much on this Book Reading, for it takes
Ďem too long to describe the colour of the eyes of all the
Books as friends
Books can be close friends. "Outside of a dog, a
book is a manís best friend," Groucho Marx says, "and inside of
a dog itís too dark to read." For some, books are better friends
than real friends. "A good book is the best of friends, the same
today and forever," reveals Martin Tupper. And Thomas Carlyle
praises his books as friends that never fail him.
"When I am reading a book, whether wise or
silly, it seems to me to be alive and talking to me," describes
Jonathan Swift. Not surprising because, according to Walter
Savage Landor, "what is reading but silent conversation?" How
close books can become to us is reflected in Charles Kingsley
statement: Except a living man there is nothing more wonderful
than a book! A message to us from human souls we never saw`85.
And yet these arouse us, terrify us, teach us, comfort us, and
open their hearts to us as brothers.
Books can be dangerous
True, books can be good teachers and guides,
entertainers and friends. Be careful though!
"A dose of poison can do its work only once,"
observes John Murray, "but a bad book can go on poisoning
peopleís minds for any length of time." However, Voltaire
disagrees, "I know many books which have bored their readers,
but I know of none which has done real evil". Supporting him is
Gunter Grass, who claims that even bad books are books and
Sir Arthur Helps warns, "Reading is sometimes an
ingenious device for avoiding thought." Nodding, Charles Lamb
admits, "I love to lose myself in other menís minds. When I am
not walking, I am reading; I cannot sit and think. Books think
for me." However, Umberto Eco disagrees on this point, saying,
"We know that books are not a way of letting someone else think
in our place: on the contrary, they are machines that provoke
Too much reading can also be dangerous as you
may lose contact with the rest of the society. Listen to George
Gordon Byron, who claims, "If I could always read, I should
never feel the want of society." Meanwhile, Moliere warns,
"Reading and marriage donít go well together." As an anonymous
bookworm says, "Book lovers never go to bed alone." And thereís
solid evidence. For example, Nancy Banks-Smith observes, "Agatha
Christie has given more pleasure in bed than any other woman",
while Harold MacMillan confesses, "I like to take a Trollope to
bed, but if one is not available, I will settle for a Wodehouse."
A balance between books and life
So itís important to strike a balance between
books and life. Can we agree with Logan Pearsall Smith, who
comments, "People say life is the thing, but I prefer reading"?
Perhaps more sensible is Julian Barnes, who observes, "Books
say: she did this because. Life says: she did this. Books are
where things are explained to you; life is where things
arenít`85 Books make sense of life. The only problem is that the
lives they make sense of are other peopleís lives, never your
"Books are good enough in their own way,"
observes Robert Louis Stevenson, "but they are a mighty
bloodless substitute for life." Meanwhile Edward Bulwer-Lytton
warns, "Master books, but do not let them master you. Read to
live, not live to read." And finally, Lin Yutang sums up, "The
wise man reads both books and life itself."