Friday, May 15, 2009

Words by Heart

Ambassador Jon Scieszka credits two books with making him a reader: Dr. Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham, and Go, Dog, Go! by P.D. Eastman. He said he’d been reading Dick and Jane in school, but once he found Seuss and Eastman, he thought, “I want to be a reader. I want to figure this out.”

That got me thinking about my college graduation. At our graduation ceremony, my alma mater gave an honorary degree to Theodor Seuss Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss). When he approached the podium to accept it, the entire student body erupted into a spontaneous chorus of

I would not eat green eggs and ham.
I do not like them, Sam-I-am.

It had probably been a good 15 years since all of us had learned to read that book, and yet those words had stayed with us. We knew those words by heart.

This is one of the great benefits of being a reader: We get to own what we read.

I don’t mean just owning the book, though I am a great book collector (and long ago books took over the studio in which I work). I mean that we get to take our favorite phrases and poems in, memorize them, own them. The author sends their words out into the world, but it is up to the reader to take them in, to accept or reject them. And for those words and ideas we hold dear, to take them to heart, to learn them by heart.

To be, or not to be. That is the question.

We hold these truths to be self-evident…

Follow the yellow brick road…

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