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To the word

Apr 27, 2012 - By Steven R. Peck

We're grateful for the mission of National Book Night and Poem in Your Pocket Day

This week brought two exceptionally well-intentioned observances, each worth celebrating.

The first was National Book Night, when hundreds of thousands of books were distributed to Americans who otherwise might not have acquired a new book this week. Or this month, or this year. Or, troublingly, in the rest of their lives.

The astonishing results of analysis by more than one study show that most people never buy a book during the course of a year. Many haven't bought a book for more than five years. Many never will. Many houses don't have a book in them that isn't a cookbook, a telephone book or an instruction book.

The electronic book phenomenon hasn't changed the picture all that much. Most "e-books" are bought by the same people who buy real books, although a trend toward new readers via electronic means is noted in some areas.

With all that in mind, organizers of National Book Night made new books available at places across the nation, including Fremont County. Libraries and schools, yes, but also stores, banks, churches and other public places.

We could get all lecturing and philosophical about the importance of the book to civilization and personal development, about how the book is the single greatest artifact of human history, and about how books help us maintain a line to both the past and the future that no iPod or smartphone will ever match.

But a better, and easier, way to put it is this: Books are good. Almost anyone who starts reading a book wants to finish it. Almost anyone who reads a book is glad. Almost anyone who reads a book comes out an improved person at the end. It's not some snooty, snobby thing that does it. It's not like doing sit-ups or taking medicine. A book is an interesting object to have and to hold. Reading a book is fun.

So here's a salute here and now to those who organized National Book Night. You've done a good and important thing.

Also of note this week was Thursday's observance of Poem in Your Pocket Day, when interested citizens were invited to find a poem they liked and carry it with them for a day to be shared with others. It could have been written or printed on paper or contained in an electronic advice.

As noted above, relatively few people read many books these days, but the poem is even less-known. What a shame, because the combination of written language and a true poet is one of humanity's sublime pairings.

Fortunately, most poetry is well-suited to the electronic communication technology that dominates so much of our attention. A poem is similar to a text message. It tends to be short, and the creator must be concise in conveying the message and meaning. And poems are portable and convenient for both sender and recipient.

OK, we'll play along. Here's a poem to start with. It's by Emily Dickinson, who did the magical job of "poet" as well as anyone who ever wrote in English:

Look back on time with kindly eyes,

He doubtless did his best;

How softly sinks his trembling sun

In human nature's west!

Put that one in your pocket, then find one of your own. As a business that relies on the written word, and an audience for it, we're grateful to those who place value in reading, and we thank them for promoting it.

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