Saturday, July 12, 2014

A Gymnasium in Paradise

I had always imagined paradise as a kind of library. - Jorge Luis Borges
The most enduring image that has lingered in my mind from the movie Minority Report (starring Tom Cruise and directed by Steven Spielberg) was the final scene where the pre-cogs were seen in a some kind of rustic cottage, surrounded by piles of books, blissfully reading. I thought to myself then, heaven must look like that--filled with wonderful books and all everyone does is read all day, and all night.

Reading is one of the greatest pleasures of life, and among the cheapest too. People like to complain that books are expensive. No they are not. The price of a paperback book is probably about the amount you'll spend on a typical outing with friends at Starbucks. And how many books does an average person read a year?

You'll be considered quite an avid reader if you manage to read a book a month. If the average paperback costs RM50.00, that amounts to only about RM600.00 a year spent on books. I'm sure your smartphone (which you'll probably change every year) costs more than that.

And don't forget, you can also read for free at the local library. Not to mention all the free e-books that you can also download to your favorite reading device. No other equivalent pleasure in life comes that cheap.

Why don't people read more then? In Malaysia, if you ask someone what he or she is reading now, you'll probably get a blank stare. Ask them what TV series they are watching now or which nightspot do they hangout these days, they'll probably light up immediately.

Most people consider reading boring. It takes a lot of effort to focus page after page of words. Reading is hard work. Reading is passe. Why not surf the web? Isn't it a much more efficient way of absorbing information in today's fast paced world?

Yes and no. I don't disagree that the internet is a great source of information and knowledge. One can probably find out more up-to-date information about a certain subject much more quickly from the web. I'm a great fan of Wikipedia and Youtube. One can learn whatever one desires to learn these days. All knowledge is available on one's fingertips, if only one is willing to invest the time to absorb them.

No, surfing the Net does not provide one important benefit one gets from reading printed dead-tree pages: the practice of concentration. Reading a book from cover to cover, tracing the authors thread of thought one word at a time, watching his ideas and concepts take shape sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph is like a kind of meditation, with words acting almost like prayer beads.

It is the hard work of slowly scanning line after line of monotonous text, lumbering along page by page at snail's pace that provides the necessary exercise that our mental faculties need. The book is the mind's exercise machine. One reads to sharpen one's mind. Reading keeps the brain sizzling with healthy electro-chemical activity, forging fresh connections among neurons, stimulating neuro-transmission across synapses.

Reading keeps one mentally fit. And I can imagine Borges, who passed away in 1986, blissfully working out at the gymnasium of the mind in Paradise.