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A Light in Darkness

By Donalyn Miller — April 12, 2008 2 min read
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Powerful thunderstorms ripped through North Texas on Wednesday night. Built on the site of an old tree farm, my subdivision was decimated, with countless old growth trees torn apart by gale force winds and tossed onto cars, roofs, and streets. Uprooted during the storm, my neighbor’s thirty-foot maple fell into our yard, killing one of our oak trees, and dragging the utility pole and power lines for our block down with it. Without power for three days, we searched for something to do when our little house became a dark cave by eight pm each night.

Laughing at me a bit when I begged them to tell me who was voted off American Idol, my students knew that life without TV, computers, and lights was a challenge for most, but one boy remarked, “Hey, you have hundreds of books don’t you? I guess you will just read until the power comes back on!” I smiled and agreed, knowing he was right.

If you have not read a book with a flashlight since you were a child, I recommend you do it again. Traveling with a book’s characters--wrapped together in a small circle of light--is a journey that we should not relegate to childhood. My husband finished Eoin Colfer’s latest adventure yarn, Airman, claiming it was one of the best reading experiences of his life. Our nine year-old begged us to read ghost stories by candlelight because these were, in her opinion, “the best stories” to read in a house draped in eerie silence and creepy shadows. Under the glow of my book light, I reread an old favorite, Cornelia Funke’s The Thief Lord. Running through the canals and cathedrals of Venice with the orphan heroes Prosper and Scipio, I escaped, leaving my troubles behind.

English professor Mason Cooley said it best, “Reading gives us someplace to go when we have to stay where we are.” I have embraced this idea my entire life. I will never climb Mount Everest, but I have seen its glaciers and peaks through the eyes of courageous explorers. I will never meet Winston Churchill or Helen Keller, but reading their memoirs gave me a chance to sit in their company, and learn from what they knew. The only people I know who count rogues and saints among their companions are readers. I don’t consider my life a small one, though. Readers live bigger lives than those who don’t read, and we know that books radiate light back onto us a hundred fold.

Books are a candle of solace when we suffer, a warm friend when we need one, and a neon sign marking exits from the confines of our mundane existence.

Books illuminate our hearts and brains, banishing shadows from dark corners, and lighting the way for us like no TV glow ever can.

As long as there is just enough light to read by, readers are never without power.

The opinions expressed in The Book Whisperer are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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