is no frigate like a book to take us lands away . . .” opens a poem by
Emily Dickinson. A frigate is a ship, originally moved by oars. These
days a frigate is warship. But I think Miss Dickinson had in mind more
of a cruise liner than a warship when she wrote that poem.
For most of us, seeing the
world, meeting lots and lots of people, having new and exciting
adventures sounds like fun. But we must go to school or to our jobs,
and we need look after our families. Of course, as fun as it sounds to
become someone different, none of can be more than one person at a
time. So when we feel restless and bored, want to go somewhere, want to
meet someone new, want to do something we’ve never done before, what’s
our answer? Books, of course!
You might ask, “Don’t television
shows and movies take us to different places and adventures?”
Well, yes, they do. But you know
what? Television shows and movies offer very little chance for you to
use your imagination because everything is already made up for you. You
see only what producers and directors want you to see. But books let
your brain create pictures that are special and perfect, just for you.
With TV and movies you only see and hear, but books give you a chance
to touch and taste and hear and smell everything in the story.
Something happened to me when I
was in the fifth grade. Sometimes, we had a free hour in our school day
in which our teacher allowed us to read or draw or quietly visit with
one another. One time during a free period, I sat at my desk and read a
book about a boy in the nineteenth-century American West. The story was
so good that I no longer sat in a quiet, overheated classroom in
twentieth-century Missouri. Instead, I followed a pioneer boy along a
wild river in summer, hearing the sounds of water at it rushed over
large rocks and splashed into clear pools. I crept through the woods
with him, smelling the spicy fragrance of leaves decaying on the forest
floor as he tracked a mountain lion and looked for signs of Indians. I
went to school with him in a brand-new schoolhouse made of rough-hewn
lumber. I could even smell the raw pine. The boy in that story liked
school. He enjoyed learning, but like me, what he enjoyed most was
reading. He carried a book with him everywhere he went, and when he had
a moment or two, he’d sit down and read.
day at school, instead of studying, he sneaked his book out from under
his shirt and started devouring the words on the page. He got lost in
the story. But he came back into the real world hard and fast when his
teacher, a stern little man, smacked a thick, stiff ruler on the boy’s
desk. The boy looked up, noticed everyone in the school room was not
only looking at him, they were also snickering.
I reached at that point in
the story, I paused and said to myself, “What an awful thing! I hope
that never happens to me.”
looked up from my book to
glance around my own school room, and guess what? My teacher was
standing behind her desk, staring hard at me. Every student in our
classroom had fastened his or her gaze on me, too. The teacher looked
miffed, and I didn’t have time to think how weird it was that I was
having the exact same experience as the boy in my book.
“Well?” the teacher said to me.
I squirmed because I had no idea
what she’d asked.
A friend sitting across the
aisle whispered, “Say ‘yes.’”
“Yes!” I said.
Everyone burst out laughing.
Whatever my teacher asked, I obviously had given her the wrong answer.
I slapped my book shut and
shoved it into my desk.
While it was a humiliating
experience at the time, I can look back now and laugh. Becoming so
engrossed in the story of a boy who had lived in another part of the
country in another century, I was able to lose touch of everything that
was real around me. It was a grand way of being someone else. And,
except for being embarrassed in front of my teacher and classmates, it
had been tremendous fun.
So let me ask you: Have you ever
read a book so good you lost yourself in it, even when lots of things
were going on around you? If not, I hope you will. Soon!