Read and Pray

Read and Pray May 24, 2018

If you are on social media at all, you probably have seen that Karen Swallow Prior was in a bad accident yesterday. She was hit by a bus and has sustained some serious injuries. She is having surgery this morning for a collapsed lung and has a long road of recovery ahead of her. She and her husband Roy could use so much prayer, if you are of the praying type.

A day ago I got her book, On Reading Well, in my mailbox and have been going back and forth between it and David and Marybeth Baggett’s excellent work in The Morals of the Story.

All I need to do to convince you to buy and read both these books is to direct your attention to this video, where someone with a microphone wanders around a street asking passers-by to name one book, just one. The first few can’t. They laugh and wave their hands and say they can’t think of any and haven’t read in a long time. Then a nice man remembers something called Moby Dick but says that actually, Moby Dick was a person who wrote something called “Horse.” Then someone names The Jungle Book, which, having ‘book’ in the title is a safe bet. Felt the person with the microphone should have congratulated him a lot more. Then, at the end, a whole slew of ladies are able to name ”Dr. Seuss” (those are scare quotes, in case you were wondering) as the last book they have ever read.

I’ve been sitting with a child laboring through a stack of Dr. Seuss for a whole week now (it’s the end of the year, we are casting about for anything) and boy, if anything makes me want to stab myself in the brain with a fork, it’s Green Eggs and Ham and the horrible Fox and Socks book. What is it with pushy annoying people trying to force tongue twisters and ham onto other people? Sam I Am needs to back down, all the way down, off the page and back into his kitchen.

It’s an interesting, wondrous, and terrifying propostion—that in a world replete with books, with books now even at the scroll of every finger, that there are thousands and more human people wandering the streets without having ever opened a single one. Water water everywhere, and nary a person figuring out how to open the mouth to drink. It’s like arriving in a tiny walled village in the middle of nowhere, Mali perhaps, and settling down to learn the language of a people who have never held or turned over the smooth, thin page, who have never yet sounded out one letter and then another and then another to form a word. Imagine laboring your whole life to write down their language, to put paper and books into the hands of this fascinated and grateful people and then to return “home” to a land where stacks of books lie moldering in every corner and no one can remember what a single one is called or why it should be opened.

I mean, you are reading these words, if you have clicked this link and adjusted the type on your screen so you can see it (I keep losing my reading glasses, so I feel for you). After this, you will probably go on and read something else, and then perhaps put down your device and pick up a book. You might read a few lines and then go on and do something else, and later come back and read a few lines more. Your day, perhaps like mine, will be hemmed in by variations of words on the page or on a screen, words and whole paragraphs that take you into other realms to meet kindred souls, to alarm and sadden you, to gladden your heart, to stretch you out to the very edge of the world and yourself.

Imagine just not doing that. Imagine just not reading, ever. What a bleak, narrow way.

If you’ll excuse me I’m going to go pray, and then read, and then pray some more. I hope you’ll do the same.

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