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The Magic of Books

You are the same today as you’ll be in five years except for two things, the books you read and the people you meet. ~Charlie ‘Tremendous’ Jones

I have read 100s of books over the 50 years of my life. Many of the books I read were required for me to get through school, most of my books are nonfiction to expand my understanding of the world I inhabit or to gain insight from another’s experiences and some for pure escapism entertainment. Many of the books have intrigued me, some entertained me, and some were complete drivel. Often, I have a few books active at any time.

There are only two books of the 100s I’ve read that have had a profound impact on my life. The first of these, the second most influential book I’ve encountered, I discovered in my early 20s. (The other and most influential book was under my nose most of my life but would not become my most loved book until my 30s.)

I was browsing through books in the nature section and happened upon a book by Edward Abbey titled “Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness”. It is an account of Abbey’s seasons as a park ranger in Arches National Monument (now a National Park) near Moab, Utah.

I still have my original paperback copy. (I have since bought two other revisions differing only in binding and drawn pictures.) The pages of my original are yellowed by time and my pencil written notes too faded to clearly read. I had a habit back then of writing the page numbers in the back of the book of passages or turns of word that I thought eloquent or a thought so profound I wanted a quick way back to that point for rereading. In this original copy, I am able to read, with difficulty, some of the page numbers I had marked. Among my favorites is:

Love of wilderness is more than a hunger for what is always beyond reach; it is also an expression of loyalty to the earth, the earth which bore us and sustains us, the only home we shall ever know, the only paradise we ever need – if only we had the eyes to see.

This book opened up a new world to me. The writing stirred in me a desire to explore Southern Utah, to spend time in the still, quiet, stark land of myriad rock formations. His writing made Southern Utah an obsession which, at first sight, became a love affair. He gifted to me a way of thinking about the earth, the wilderness, and our duty to protect the wild tracts of undeveloped land. Abbey was a radical in terms of his views on protection of wilderness and advocated monkey wrenching to protect this earth that bore us and sustains us. His thoughts with their radical overtone touched a chord within me and gave voice to feelings I had harbored for some time, beliefs that I did not feel safe exposing to my fellow man.

Books have a power to touch our hearts and minds with greater intensity than do movies. Who among us, having read a book made into a movie, is ever satisfied with the movie? It is impossible to distill the magic of a book, which explores in complex intricacies and takes may hours to read, into a 90 minute film and not lose the vast majority of the ideas not to mention the substance of the work. I believe it’s because written word is more powerful at instilling ideas and images into our subconscious which then connects with us on a deeper level than do movies despite the expense that the images require to produce.

Books are magical. They give life to words uttered centuries before making readily available to us the voices of long deceased people. They also allow us to catch a glimpse of great minds and to think thoughts we may never have thought on our own.

I feel sorry for those who don’t take the time to read books. They have the words of some of the most intelligent people to walk the earth yet choose to not drink in their brilliance.

I am the person I am today, in part, because I have available to me the written works of Aristotle, Dante, King David, Michael Angelo, Paul, Sun Tzu, Edward Abbey, and countless others, and have taken the time to open my mind and let their ideas flow over my consciousness.


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