A dear friend told me that his eyesight is being destroyed by disease. It is vanishing so quickly that, daily, a bit of it disappears, forever.
He now can only see shadows. The only print he can read is sizable, magnified many times. Still, he has to study to figure out the letters. One night, after a conversation with him, I sadly pondered on how my life would be if I could never read another book.
If that happened, so much of who I am, because of my greatest enjoyment, would crumble away. I’d lose the excitement of finding a new book about a subject I want to learn more about. My happiness would be tremendously marred. It is true that I am often entertained by books but, more than that, I am sustained by them. Mama always claimed that my “book lovin’” began when the doctor put her on complete bedrest because of a late-in-life pregnancy with me. In her new, unfamiliar world of ease, she sought diversion. She found it in a new set of encyclopedias that Daddy had bought for my college-age sister. Mama began reading at “A” and made it to “K” before I was born.
Mama’d say, “That’s why you came into this world always havin’ a book in your hands.”
I don’t remember when I didn’t read or a time when my mind did not swirl daily around all the books I wanted to write. We book consumers enjoy different subjects on different levels, which is an appeal of reading: Choose your level of comfort and your subject. At 8, I read only books on horses.
Dolly Parton was like me. She had a curiosity that could only be answered by books. The Dolly Parton Imagination Library has given away over 100 million books through a program that she started for her Tennessee home county of Sevier but which has spread throughout America. As is typical for Miss Dolly, she waves off any praise for such a philanthropic effort. She rises most mornings by 3 a.m. to begin her day with reading.
Somewhere along the line, many years ago, I started stepping away from fiction to read almost exclusively nonfiction and autobiographies. I learn and develop wisdom through people’s experiences: their triumphs, failures, and the lessons they learned.
We cannot all like — or even appreciate — all authors and writing styles. It would be akin to a universal love of the color orange. The book industry, which has suffered in recent years due to competition from an electronic world, is still plugging away. The Bible continues to be the bestseller of all time, while Harlequin romances claim the biggest slice of the overall market by selling 1 billion copies annually.
See? I told you there are different tastes.
Recently, I was taken a bit back when I saw a post from someone who was reading Toni Morrison’s “Beloved.” It’s probably safe to say that book, as well as Ms. Morrison’s writing, is either loved or not. I have written books like that, too; books that are adored by some but discarded by others.
I never could gain a foothold into her high style of words, nor was I drawn to Ms. Morrison’s personality. To enjoy a writer’s work, I must start with an affection for the writer, since their words are aiming for my heart. The post said, “If you don’t like Toni Morrison, you are wrong.”
Wrong? Because I’m drawn toward different styles and subjects? That’s the first time anyone ever said I was wrong because I didn’t read a particular author.
No, I’m not wrong. No more than the reader who devours five Harlequin romances in a week or the reader who chooses Faulkner or Russian classics or pop culture mysteries.
We just have different preferences.
But thank God, we have the eyesight to see the words. That makes all prose beautiful.
Ronda Rich is a best-selling author who is honored to write stories and privileged to read stories of others.