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Reading is one of my new jobs

Nov 24, 2013 - By Randy Tucker

How many books have I read? Unless the NSA watches what Americans are reading as closely as what we are saying, watching or browsing, there isn't any way to tell.

It is an enigma why many people actually brag that they never read books. The simple act of reading is one of life's greatest enjoyments.

In a recent Atlantic Monthly article the invention of the printing press was the top pick of a panel of historians in listing the greatest 50 inventions in human history since the wheel.

The printing press opened the world of knowledge to individuals of limited means, leading to the Renaissance, the rise of the working class, the middle class and overthrowing inherited power in favor of the power of the individual.

Reading and the ability to convey thoughts in written form represents the highest level of human communication.

It is sometimes a sobering thought to realize that the letters I press on my keyboard this evening will last much longer than I ever will. I sometimes read stories in old editions of The Ranger and Lander Journal from generations removed, and they still convey the same meaning they did as the author penned them long ago. That's the power of the written word in transcending time.

My recent retirement from the K-12 educational system has provided unprecedented time to do many of the things I've put off. My schedule is largely mine to set each day.

Leaving the 9 to 5 or, rather, the 7 to 8 as my career demanded allows time in the wood shop each day, time to teach online between gluing projects or waiting for finishes to dry, time to teach math for a couple of hours each afternoon in the kind of academic setting that every teacher should get to experience at least once in their lives -- but mostly, it gives me time to read and reflect.

I didn't keep track as I devoured one book after another over the last 18 months, but volumes on the history of wood, of salt and of codfish were intertwined with

classics on World War II, Franklin D. Roosevelt, the air war in the Pacific, America's atomic history, the Civil War, the gardens of the founding fathers, the writing of the constitution, and many more books on myriad topics.

In another enigma, I know writers who rarely read themselves.

Writing is a natural process once you've acquired some of the basics, but, at least in my experience, that acquisition comes from reading the work of others.

Children learn by mimicking their parents. Even the most ardent disciplinary institution we have in the United States, the military, uses the technique of mirroring behavior. Whether you're in the Army, Navy or Marines, the training is the same: Tell them what they're going to do, do it then, tell them what they've just done. It is simple, it is thorough, and it is effective. It's also a way for you to break up huge projects into small segments that allow you to surmount the insurmountable. As the adage says, "How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time."

In the process of reading several hundred pages a week I was able to step back in time to my junior high and high school years. In middle school I loved to read. While I still had time to fish, play ball and get into trouble with my friends, I also had time to check out a dozen or so books each month from the air base library.

In high school the only TV available between Kinnear and Pavillion was old KWRB, channel 10 from Thermopolis, a station that routinely shut down around 10 p.m. leaving a lot of free time for a night-owl teenager to fill. The Riverton library was in the old Mote house in those days and later moved down a few blocks to a vacant church, but its limited circulation was the only game in town.

The Army Surplus store, located in the present El Sol de Mexico building, had a section of used books for just a few cents that I picked through each week as well. Science fiction and American history were my favorite topics in those days.

How many books have I read? A lot. I've never kept track, and unless the NSA watches what Americans are reading as closely as what we are saying, watching or browsing, there isn't any way to tell.

The magic of good writing is that it makes good reading.

In one of the recent books I read, "The Devil in the White City" by Erik Larson, the author makes an interesting and astute statement in the afterword portion of his work, a section that I never used to read because time was always the limiting factor in being able to finish a book before the job called me away.

Larson elaborated on the difficult work of primary research, of reading old diaries, old police accounts and deciphering difficult-to-read handwriting yellowed to near invisibility. It is worth the effort, he claims. To quote Larson, "There are always little moments on such trips when the past flares to life, like a match in the darkness."

To continue that line of thinking, that match soon fades away and with it the light that briefly illuminated a time and place that we can never reach again.

The magic of the written word, combined with the uncharted depths of the imagination of the reader is a wonderful pairing.

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Editor's note: Staff writer Randy Tucker is a retired educator.

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