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The Courage to Read

LABOR DAY marks an end to summer and an advent of fall and school. One of summer's famous pastimes is reading - time for that novel coming soon to a theater near you. Yet summer's end need not end one's time to read.

Sadly, reading today often requires courage. There are so many reasons not to: the channel-surfing sirens of cable TV; crowded work and play schedules. Also, reading and family life supposedly are incompatible. Some argue that reading is an escape.

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To this we say: Nonsense. Real reading makes demands; but it brings reward. It takes strength to push back the incessant noise and pressure of the world and make time to read. Real reading requires independent thinking and effort.

Reading may be seen as a vocational tool, a way to function in today's marketplace. It is a ticket to better grades, schools, and jobs. Yes, it can be enjoyable and open a world of information that allows for more participation in society.

But there is a more challenging dimension to reading. In a media-saturated postmodern society, it is easy to forget that for thousands of years, ordinary people not only didn't read, but were not allowed to read the texts most important to their world. The right to read was at the heart of the Protestant Reformation. Access to the Scriptures was central not only to declaring oneself to be one of ``the Lord's free people,'' but in knowing it. As David Hall points out in ``Worlds of Wonder, Days of Judgment,'' a study of popular religious belief in early New England, reading was not confined to schools but represented an entire way of life. Reading and the search for meaning were synonymous. Some children had read the Bible more than once by age six. Some teens had read it a dozen times.

We don't argue for a monkish existence. But reading still opens new worlds; there is an exchange between the page and life. One friend's life was changed by Melville's ``Moby Dick.'' In a popular children's film, ``The Never-ending Story,'' a boy wanders into a shop where the owner has a magical book whose plot differs with each reader. As the boy reads, he finds the demands on the characters in the book world - who face a terrible plague called ``The Nothing'' - are the same challenges he faces in his own world. They had real consequences and required courageous self-examination - with reward.

Reading is one fall fashion that always stays in style.

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