Galileo said: “Books are our sole means of having superhuman powers while remaining resolutely human. The power of traversing the abysses of space, time, and misunderstanding that gap between our own life, our own self, our own subjective experience and another‘s.”
Yesterday (9th August) was National Book Lovers Day. This gives me the perfect excuse to tell you something that you may already know but have forgotten or taken for granted. For this occasion, I organized a round table discussion with some renowned authors, Neil Gaiman, James Baldwin, and Toni Morrison (RIP) in order to gather their thoughts on the importance of reading books and the role of writers in society.
Author Joanne Reed, “Neil Gaiman; you feel very strongly about the importance of reading and believe our future depends on it. Why is reading so important?”
Neil Gaiman, “Books are the way that we communicate with the dead, the way we learn lessons from those who are no longer with us, it is the way the humanity has built itself and progresses. There are tales that are older than most countries, tales that have outlasted cultures and the buildings in which they were first told. These tales have survived on the shoulders of story-tellers and people who have transmitted them forward.”
James Baldwin: “For me, books are a way to change one’s destiny.”
Author Joanne Reed, “Interesting; throughout history, access to knowledge and education was the monopoly of a very few. Literacy was inaccessible to most and prohibited to many, i.e. serfs, women and slaves, to keep them in a state of servitude and ignorance. Knowledge is power; the ruling classes kept serfs uneducated by design so they could successfully rule over them. Under the feudal system women too had little or no chance of attaining education. In a few cases, girls from upper-class backgrounds enjoyed the benefits of education as there were certain obligation for women of nobility that required them to be literate; but whatever education women had access to was purely designed to help them marry well, or to become a good wife and mother. In the USA, slaves were prohibited by law to read and write. Slave masters understood that control over slaves could not be based solely on physical coercion and it was also understood that literate slaves would eventually demand the same rights that whites enjoyed; I discuss this in Chapter 7 of my book.“
James Baldwin: “You cannot underestimate the importance of writing. Writers describe things which other people are too busy to describe. I didn’t decide to become a writer I discovered I was one.”
Neil Gaiman, “Writers have an obligation to write true thing. Truth is not in what happens but in what it tells us about who we are. Writers have an obligation not to bore our readers, but to make them need to turn the pages. One of the best cures for a reluctant reader is after all a tale they cannot stop themselves reading. And while we must tell our readers true things and give them arms and pass on whatever wisdom we have gleaned from our short stay on this green world, we have an obligation to not preach, not to lecture, not to force predigested morals and messages down our reader’s throats like adult birds feeding their babies pre-masticated maggots.”
Toni Morisson, “I agree but wish to add, that if there is a book you want to read that hasn’t been written yet, you must be the one who writes it.”
Author Joanne Reed, “Exactly, I always wanted to read a book that inspires and challenges me, a book about important subjects like love, money and health in an educational and fun to read way; a book that contains a treasure trove of wisdom gathered from people who succeeded in their own Quests, where I can learn lessons from history and can have conversation with philosophers. I never found such a book, so decided to follow the advice of Toni Morrison and wrote the book myself!”
I would like to thank my guests for agreeing to participate. In closing, on National Book Lover’s Day, I hope this discussion has reminded you of the power of knowledge and to help appreciate the story teller’s contribution to this art. Books don’t write themselves!
Words have tremendous energy and power, they have the ability to educate, to help, to heal, to illuminate the minds.
“Books are our sole means of having superhuman powers while remaining resolutely human.”