I don’t remember being a particularly inquisitive child. Sure, I asked questions, but so long as someone was there to give me the answer, that was knowledge enough for me. You would never have caught me looking for answers on my own. I knew where the encyclopedias were in the house, and as far as I was concerned, that is where they should stay.
The dictionary however, was an entirely different matter. This tome of meanings and synonyms would become the bane of my existence growing up. Because for every definition I asked for, I would be told “Go look it up”. This, in and of itself, was not the problem. Although, if you ask me it would have been much easier to just give me the answer and then I could get back to my Barbies and stuff. But apparently my being inconvenienced wasn’t important. (Thanks parental unit!) My issue was the location of the dictionary. This one pound book, though it felt like ten in my little-girl hands, was kept on the highest shelf imaginable. Now, I don’t know if its position on Kilimanjaro was because it was esthetically pleasing for Feng Shui purposes, or strategically placed for optimum punishment, namely mine. I could never fathom why something that seemed to be oft used, was kept in such an impractical place. (Which now leads me to conclude that it was not Feng Shui related.) Needless to say, I would pull out my crampons and ice axe and begin the treacherous ascent. I’d imaging that Sir Edmund felt a lot more elation upon reaching his summit. Plus he didn’t have to carry a heavy burden back down with him, and then do it all over again with mere minutes’ rest! However, it was mission accomplished and I could get back to more important matters.
It would seem to me now that I was a particularly forgetful child, as it never dawned on me before I asked that I would once again be sent to climb to dangerous heights. Or perhaps, deep down, there was some part of me that wanted the hunt for that knowledge; to not always have it handed to me. To know that there can be knowledge in the search itself, and the prize much sweeter for it. And my parents knew all along.
I think that it is for these reasons that I love books. Not all books give themselves over easily, but the sometimes it’s what you learn during the journey through them. Books are a looking-glass through which you can see the world, or a different world entirely. Seen through the eyes of a stranger, or a long time friend. Books have a personality of their own. A life not lived until someone opens it to that first page and closes it after the last. And good book or not, the reward at the end is irrevocable. Knowledge cannot be reclaimed.
I want my son to have the same passion for reading. He already has an appetite for learning, although not always for things that I would consider enlightening, although what teenager does? I’m hoping that he will one day realize that books are something to marvel at, a powerful tool that can only leave you wiser. And to be able to teach yourself through a book of your choosing is a great accomplishment.
I don’t have a dictionary, or a shelf above the cloud line, but when he does come and ask me what a word means, I do say “Go look it up”. He knows where the laptop is.