Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Guest Blog: Bill Peach

Judging One's Cover by a Book

A recent poll by Associated Press/Ipsos found that one in four adults read no books in the past year. The books most often read were religious works and popular fiction. The poll did not indicate whether the same people read both. The poll found that people who do read average around seven books a year.

One would assume that a book of popular fiction should be read completely, front to back, and it would have a climax or some resolution at or near the end. Religion and philosophy offer more options.

I have stacks of partially read books with bookmarks marking my progress as of last sitting. Since I have not finished them, I do not know how they will end. These books have no plot, no suspense, no conclusion. To be honest, I am not certain if I read a complete book this year.

After the publication of Random Thoughts Left & Right, my wife told someone that I had finished my third book. Jokingly, the person expressed concern that I was a slow reader. Some of my partially read books have bookmarks in the first or second chapters. I am impressed when I watch a reader nearing the end of a novel of four hundred plus pages. Occasionally, I carry John Egerton's, Speak Now Against the Day, which he admits is too long at 704 pages but regrets that he left out two important chapters. More than likely, I will never finish that book but it continues to give me insight into an important period of Southern history.

I am neither voracious, avid, ravenous, nor insatiable. I am a slow reader. My passion is for learning, for which reading is a necessity. Reading takes us beyond our own introspective mischief and the triviality of casual conversation. Reading gives us exposure to persons who are more intelligent than our peers or us.

As a fashion accessory, a book serves a similar purpose as a laptop, Ipod nano, briefcase, bracelet, or dog. Last week, I initiated a conversation with a man carrying a biography of Albert Einstein. Validating my assumption that he was an academic, he turned out to be a university provost. Can you judge a man or woman by a book cover?

Do we choose our friends by the books they read? Do we make assumptions about intelligence, personality, moral values, religious and political preference by book titles? Yes, we do. Our associative conclusions may not always be accurate, depending on the reading diversity of that person. Titles by Rick Warren, Joel Osteen, Jim Wallis, George Lakoff, or Christopher Hitchens can be indicators of one's belief system. Books by Ann Coulter, Bill O'Reilly, Hillary Clinton, Al Gore, or Barack Obama may suggest common interest or potential confrontation. Do we feel compelled to give advice and comfort to anyone reading a self-help book? Do we enjoin conversation with readers of romance novels, cookbooks, pet grooming manuals, military history, computer tutorials, or economic forecasts?

One can't always know whether the reader would welcome conversation or prefer being left alone to read in privacy. Books serve both purposes. One can avoid unwelcome advances or boring conversation within the covers of a book. Other readers welcome the shared experience of having enjoyed the same book as a bond almost without equal.

I felt such a bond as I watched a young man reading his Bible in a restaurant. With a yellow highlighter, he carefully marked specific verses. I assumed he was preparing for a Bible study group or Sunday School class. Later, when I walked past his table, I was surprised that he had highlighted the entirety of two opened pages. I wondered if that was his bookmark, measuring his devotion to a book that he would eventually finish.
I sat down and opened The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, with its subjects listed alphabetically, and finished reading the extended definition of Aesthetics. I may not finish this one this year.

Bill Peach is a member of the Williamson County School Board and a member, Hall of Fame of Williamson County Council for the Written Word. He’s written three books:
To Think as a Pawn (a three-act play), The South Side of Boston (a memoir) and Random Thoughts Left & Right (collection of essays and short fiction

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