I am a confirmed bibliophile. I have always read extensively, and books have taken an active role in my life. Most parents punished their children by forcing them to abstain from electronics or friends. My parents chose a different form of punishment; I was grounded from reading. The characters in my books were my closest friends. No greater punishment could be contrived for me than robbing me of my ability to save the aristocrats with Percy Blakeney or escape an island with Crusoe. I still am an avid reader, and when approached with the question "What kinds of things do you like to read?" I often find myself at a loss to pick one genre or author. I am interested in reading everything that I have ever been able to obtain: history books, medical journals, and case files all hold my interest. Yet if forced to pick a favorite in the world of literature I would choose the short story. This is still not a genre or an author but perhaps the choice will make more sense when I explain. I live a busy life, and I am not always able to read a full novel. Yet the short story allows me the chance to fulfil my love of the written word in a comparatively short time. I love the novel for its intrigue, a poem for its thought provoking beauty, and the short story for its convenience. I have loved books since my birth and will probably love them as I lay dying.
Perhaps my earliest memories are of my parents reading aloud to myself and my siblings in the evenings as we gathered in a period of relaxation after our evening meal. My father often chose authors like Ralph Moody or Charles Dickens. It is my belief that he chose these books to teach us a lesson, such as the importance of family and integrity. A little later and I was devouring L. Frank Baum's Wizard of Oz series. I was delighted to discover that there are fourteen books relating the history of Oz, suffice to say I have read them all. At the breakfast table I would read the cereal boxes or any other surface bearing words. People can be addicted to many things; I am addicted to books. All books regardless of their genre or their author, hold an unperilled beauty. As such it is almost impossible to define which type of story one likes to read or write. Many stories hold an ability to set the reader free into a world in which happy endings are the norm; a world in which the main character seldom passes away. Or if the story lacks these endearments, they are generally so despondent that they put the readers difficulties into perspective. Perhaps this is best stated in the words of William Nicholson, "We read to know we're not alone." But this is just one element of literature.
Literature has many elements. First among these is the beauty of words. People speak in great detail of the beauty of a picture or painting, or any form of art. Seldom are the same individuals cognizant of the beauty contained in words themselves. They are beautiful birds that the author captures and places in gilded cages upon the page. Each bird is a different thought, a different emotion that the author feels as if he himself had lived them. He chooses his words carefully hoping to express all that he fills within his soul, all he wishes his characters to communicate, and all the beauty that comes with his choice of words in their own right. As he captures these beautiful wild birds he chooses them to complement each other and reflect the beauty of their plumage. These beautiful birds in their captivity teach others what it is to be free.
This leads us to another element of literature, its unique ability to let us live through another's eyes. It has often seemed unfair to me that we are only gifted with one pair of eyes, one viewpoint in which we view the world. It is restricting and holds one captive in the tiny cage of their own mind and belief systems. Literature allows the individual to breach the captivity of their own mind and view the world through a different pair of eyes. To see the world through the vision of different culture, a different time, or even a different species. These leads to the ability of the individual to echo the words of George R.R. Martin "I have lived a thousand lives and I've loved a thousand loves. I've walked on distant worlds and seen the end of time. Because I read."
But many cannot see the appeal of books in this fashion. Or if they do they only see the appeal of a true story, the biography and autobiography. They do not understand fiction, do not understand fantasy, and do not see the purpose of either studying or reading such stories. In fact, I have some dear friends who hold this belief. One in particular comes to mind, this friend has often complained of my preoccupation with literature, complaining that the stories I read are not true. Yet in a sense every story ever written is true. For it contains elements of the truths that define humanity. Literature allows us the ability to transcend the confines of our daily life and experiences and see them through new eyes. It may be said that the purpose of the author is twofold: to teach wisdom and compassion, and to capture the beauty of the human soul. If the eyes are the windows to the individual's soul, then literature is the window into the soul of civilization. The literature of a civilization reflects the beliefs of the civilization. If we promote good literature, then we show ourselves to be a good civilization.