February 22, 2013, by Stephen Mumford
It lowers the heart rate. It stimulates your mind. It broadens horizons. Is there anything as lovely in life as reading a book, treating oneself to a few hours of escape? A book can be a window on a different world, perhaps a world of ideas. It can be a book of fantastic stories describing marvellous things. The book can take you far outside your routine sphere of interest. But it is capable also of doing the exact opposite, taking you deeper and deeper inside your own mind, exploring themes of human psychology, telling you truths about your own life. In a book, you can discover the world. In a book, you can discover yourself.
For those with time who can sit quietly, with no sounds or distractions, and for an extended period, then they know the height of luxury. For that time, they live like a god or goddess. How else would one live if all material needs were met? Take a book from the shelf. Turn the pages. Touch the paper. Is it an old book or a new one? They smell very different but both are delicious. And then become immersed in the mind of the author. Inhabit their world. Revisit it day after day until the whole is complete and the back cover is closed. That book is now part of you.
Commitments prevent me from reading as much as I would like. In more innocent times I thought nothing of giving my day over to a book. Often I would read with no particular purpose in mind. I read many of Bertrand Russell’s books for no reason other than pleasure and he wrote on a diverse range of subjects. I had the joy of learning about early German Social Democracy from him, and then all about Marriage and Morals, but also more challenging topics such as An Essay on the Foundations of Geometry. He even had a couple of books of fiction, all devoured with pleasure. Out of pure curiosity, I also read Anselm’s Proslogion, Hofstadter’s Gödel, Escher, Bach, Camus’ L’étranger, Hughes and Cresswell’s Introduction to Modal Logic. I read Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil. And what a joy it then was when I discovered the light relief of Charles Dickens and how I loved devoting weeks’ worth of free time to one of his novels.
When I read now, it is usually with some specific research purpose in mind. That’s not so much fun. It’s too pragmatic. But it will not always be so. My retirement will be spent working through the remainder of Dickens and I will have so much fun! Please tell me some of your favourite books.