President Theodore Roosevelt, as the author of over 35 books and hundreds of thousands letters and articles, no stranger to the import of the written word, once opined “I am part of everything that I have read.” If this assertion is true – and far be it from me to call into question the veracity of any statement uttered by one of the most accomplished American public figures of the last 150 years – then my literary DNA is an eclectic hodgepodge of biological elements spanning the entire spectrum of themes and substance but one surprisingly devoid of any snobbish merit.
Bitten by the reading bug early in life, by my own conservative estimate I have read over 9,500 books in my lifetime. And, while I liked to say the majority of the titles I perused are of the pedigree one would expect to find in a grouping of “All-Time Must Read Titles”, sadly, such is not the case. I have not read any Twain or Orwell; never picked up an Austen or Brontë; hell, I am not sure if I have ever read any classic from start to finish. “Moby Dick”; could not get past the first two chapters. “Homer”? Sad to say, I opted for the Cliff Notes (even that was a very hard slough.) “Of Mice and Men”? The movie was great; the book, could not tell you as I never finished the read. The last Hemingway book I turned the pages of was the first and from my perspective, far from worth the effort.
This disclaimer established I do not want anyone to think I spent most of my entire adult life squandering away untold hours wastefully reading sophomoric drivel, the bunk of fools and the poppycock and twaddle of amateurish scribes. Far from it! While a large slice of the nearly 10,000 books I have read may never have sniffed a “NY Times Best Seller List” much less been on one, this is not to say that for me, the time spent reading was not an endeavor of benefit.
To the contrary, I will argue that with every book I have read – ok, perhaps with the exception of “The Executioner #15, “Panic in Philly” – I have grown, mentally and intellectually. Every second spent reading, regardless of the subject matter, author, narrative, tone or mastery of the five components of effective writing has developed me as a person; my imagination has been stimulated and my ability to see, grasp, and appreciate topics, themes, opinions, pejoratives and biases has developed and expanded exponentially.
In short, reading has been crucial to setting the conditions for any success I have achieved in life. Much more than intellectual growth and the enlivenment and kindling of imagination reading has delivered to me during my decades spent as a bookworm, this catechism of learning pales in comparison to what I have gained from my fascination with books in terms stress relief and tension reduction.
This was no more important to me than during the nearly seven years I spent deployed to three wars during my Army and Department of Defense civilian career. Alone and away from family in a combat zone and prohibited to partake in two of the most basic stress relief outlets – sex and alcohol – by General Order #1, I was forced like so many others to find alternative outlets to mollify my stress levels. For me, the panacea was two-fold: Working out (the topic of a future blog entry) and reading. Both served me very well as an effective tonic for controlling the maddening and exasperating apprehensions caused by operating and living in demanding environments and in the face of perennial danger.
Though those days are behind me now, I still find reading to be the perfect curative for keeping the specter of stress at bay. The 18th Century French philosopher, Montesquieu proclaimed, “I have never known any distress that an hour’s reading did not relieve” and I could not agree more. When feeling overwhelmed or having a particularly bad day nothing allows me to gain a sense of balance, regain mental composure and afford my overtaxed emotions an opportunity to “chill out” quicker than breaking the spine of a book. If not a book, then a magazine or an essay; hell, even a blog will do! Whatever the forum of your choice, I implore you adopt this practice as part of your life wellness protocol. You will not regret the decision.
Controlling stress is a critical element of enhancing one’s mental fitness and wholeness of life. I have found that reading is a keen component of my stress relief remedy. I encourage you to try the same. It is never too late to discover the art of reading. And remember, while reading the great classics should always be a goal, any prose that allows you to escape into your imagination or provide momentary relief from life’s trials and tribulations is always the perfect start point.
It is never too late to pick up a good habit like reading. Because “Life does not end at the Half Century mark. It actually BEGINS at the Second Fifty.”