Everlasting Companions


Credits: Stewart Butterfield

Books have been man’s companions for thousands of years, starting in ancient Egypt as early as 2400 BC when the first recordings on papyrus were compiled into what could be called a pseudo-book. Serving as teachers, guides, and companions, books are so powerful that they not only influence us but also have the ability to actually change the course of our lives and the way we see the world. As author Samuel Smiles states, “Books introduce us into the best society; they bring us into the presence of the greatest minds that have ever lived. We hear what they said and did, we see them as if they were really alive, we sympathize with them, enjoy with them and grieve with them. We become good, noble and civilized. They dispel darkness. They take us from gloominess to enlightenment. Books have played a pivotal role in the lives of all great men. They were not great but these books transformed them to dizzy heights of greatness.”

Serving as teachers, guides, and companions, books are so powerful that they not only influence us but also have the ability to actually change the course of our lives and the way we see the world.

— Maria Caltabiano

Through books, one learns to read and write, travel in time, discover new cultures and societies across the world, and, as some would argue, even make new friends. Books seem to have the ability to help us know more about our own feelings and emotions. Who hasn’t missed a character from a novel once the book was over? Or become enraged with how justice doesn’t always prevail? If you have read The Confession by John Grisham, which tells the story of a black man due to be executed for a murder he didn’t commit, or To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, you know exactly what I am talking about.  

It is interesting to note that, according to specialists, a passionate reading habit is closely linked to culture and nurture. Susan Neuman, an American psychologist, has conducted research that shows that the habit of reading for pleasure is directly dependent on our childhood memories related to words and storytelling, regardless of whether they are read or told orally. Neuman is a professor at New York University and was also one of the key figures in American literacy as Secretary of Education during George W. Bush’s first presidential term. Through her studies, she discovered that the emphasis parents place on the act of reading and how much they nurture their kids to develop this habit at home is the key to forming passionate adult readers. Remarkably, Neuman explains that fiction books are especially beneficial for kids, for they stimulate creativity and help further develop a sharper critical thinking in children. As she states, “The books we read during our lifetimes shape us both in terms of our character and our knowledge besides playing important roles in other areas of our lives influencing who we ultimately become.”

In terms of cultural influence, reading is definitely a strong part of the American culture. A recent study by the Washington D.C Pew Research Center reveals that 7 in 10 Americans have read a book in the past year. It also shows that Americans read an average of about 12 books per capita per year.  In the US, celebrities often release their own reading recommendations, which in turn motivate the general population to engage in this practice. This is the case with Oprah Winfrey’s book club or Bill Gates’ annual reading list. Celebrity reading lists often cover a variety of genres, and classics such as Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen and The Color Purple by Alice Walker are no longer the only suggested books. No wonder that only one book in Bill Gates’ reading list is a romance novel, Neal Stephenson’s Seneveves. This suggests that Americans are more inclined to engage in other types of readings such as “how-to” and self-help books rather than the classics that were popular in previous decades.

Reading is so embedded into the American culture that it is a common tradition for publishers to announce a tantalizing list of “soon to come” releases for the summer break. Ranging from romance novels to nonfiction pieces, the list also represents how much reading for pleasure is implanted into American society.

In our modern day and age, books have acquired multiple forms to please every taste. From Kindles to audiobooks, readers may choose from an array of reading methods. Interestingly, even with the birth of digital reading, statistics show that paper copies are still the main preference in the US. Whether digital, audio, or printed, certain books have the ability to stick with us for the rest of our lives. Life-long inspirational pieces, they transcend boundaries regardless of their genre. Hence, here is my current “booket” list for you: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, Diplomacy by Henry Kissinger, The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, Two Brothers by Ben Elton, Stolen Lives by Malika Oufkir and Michele Fitoussi, The Old Man and The Sea by Ernest Hemingway, and, one of my ultimate favorites, Wild Swans by Jung Chang.