One could say I am a bibliophile. My earliest memories include Mama reading The Hobbit aloud, my family listening to audio books on road trips, and my struggling through Dick and Jane books. Trips to the library posed exciting opportunities to explore new books and reread familiar ones. Sometimes I perused books that Mama, my sister, or my friend Deborah recommended. Other times I went rogue and read the books that caught my eye. Beautiful picture books, fantasy, and fairy tales fascinated me, along with dragons and dogs. Ever since I was little, books have formed an important part of my life, and reading has influenced me in many ways.
As Emily Dickinson notes in her poem “I Never Saw a Moor,” one can know how a moor looks, what a wave is, and where heaven is without having actually seen them. Though she traveled little, Dickinson discovered and explored the world through books. Reading books has instructed me in a similar way. Books have taken me on boats to India, on camels to ancient Egypt, and in wagons across North America. As a result, without putting one foot out-of-doors, I have traveled the world.
Reading books has also expanded my vocabulary, taught me about etymology, and increased my comprehension of foreign languages. Stories set in the Middle Ages have introduced me to archaic terms like mickle, wassail, sumpter, and cantle. Words which my reading has recently familiarized me with include vicarious, effulgent, sanguine, argentine, and miasma. In reading about the laws of King Alfred the Great of England, I discovered that the Old English prefix “were” means man, hence the words wereguild and werewolf. Though my English vocabulary has benefited the most from reading, I have also learned some French and Spanish words and phrases from books that mix these languages in with English.
Not only has reading taught me to understand the meanings of words, but it has also taught me to appreciate their individual and collective beauty. A word can often have character, due to its denotation, connotation, appearance, and sound. Though poets use rhetorical devices most often, all writers can use these techniques effectively. As I have discovered from books I have read, the power of good sentences can come from many devices. Some sentences stand out for their punchy nouns and verbs, for their rhythm, or for their structure. In others, the author’s use of onomatopoeia, alliteration, consonance, assonance, similes, metaphors, and other rhetorical devices imbues them with beauty.
By exposing me to a wide range of writing styles, reading books has taught me writing skills and enabled me to become a better writer. I have learned that a key to writing creatively and well is finding common ground with one’s audience and showing them something familiar in a new, crystalline way. In a few short lines in Idylls of the King, Tennyson sets before one’s eyes a scene in Camelot and shows his readers that Gawain is renowned for feats of arms, whereas Modred is not. Great authors can sculpt similes and metaphors that connect with readers, skillfully balancing creativity with clarity. Thomas Hardy in Far from the Madding Crowd says of one elderly character, “He seemed to approach the grave as a hyperbolic curve approaches a straight line—less directly as he got nearer, till it was doubtful he would ever reach it at all” (Hardy 117).
Reading books has impacted me in many ways. Through reading, I have expanded my knowledge and experience of the world, of language, of rhetoric, and of writing. I have stretched and strengthened my imagination. I have filled my mind with new thoughts and increased my understanding of history and the thoughts, feelings, and actions of mankind. Great authors have taught me how to write well; mediocre authors have shown me styles and subjects to avoid. Being a bibliophile has fired in me a desire to learn how to share with others the truth, beauty, thrills, laughter, and tears which so many books have brought me. Reading, books, and knowledge have power to entertain, influence, and instruct, and ever since I began reading, books have influenced me and helped me grow.
Hardy, Thomas. Far from the Madding Crowd. New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, n.d.