Recently I (and a number of other writers including Vargas Llosa, Saramago, Ken Follet, PD James, etc.) were asked by the students at a high school outside of Sevilla a simple but important question: Why read?
In an age of blinding and deafening media noise, it is vital to find a satisfactory response. I see how my own twelve-year-old son is bombarded daily, and so I was trying to address a question that many young people ask, but no doubt many adults must also answer in their own lives.
Here is my attempt:
Dear friends at IES ALBERO,
You ask an important question. Why read in a world filled with flashing, whirling, blaring media, all demanding your attention? Why do something as quiet and as black-and-white as reading letters printed on paper?
The reason is simple: there are secrets in books that you cannot learn from any movie, any song, or any television show. In reading, you enter into the mind, through the heart, and under the skin of another person, and you see the world revealed with an intimacy that can only happen in your own imagination set on fire by an author’s whispered words. Do you wish to know how your own mind works? Only then can you use it to get what you want. Do you long to know your own heart? Only then can you love anyone and be worthy of their love. Do you wish to know your own skin? Only then can you hope to have lived while you were alive. Reading is the gateway to these secrets, stolen from the library of life. Only if you pry open the covers of books can you hope to seize life by its long, stiff neck and, with your hands gripped around its slippery throat, demand that it tell you its secrets. Then, if you read closely and listen well, it will whisper them to you. Don’t wait for the movie—the secrets can never be revealed in the frenzy of action that must appear on any screen. The secrets are in the black fire written on white fire of books. They are waiting for you.
With warm regards and excitement for the unfolding adventure of your lives,