Opinion

Unrestricted reading is the key to an educated person — and to a free society

I thank The Olympian for providing this platform to me for the past year. I hope you, the readers, have found me at least interesting.

We are heading into the days in which we celebrate rebirth and renewal. The days get shorter and the nights longer. The solstice arrives at 8:28 a.m. Dec. 21. Winter is coming. I wish all a Happy New Year. Let us all do unto others as we would have others do unto us.

I would also like to put my "Grandpa" hat on and expound on what I consider the most important skill and activity in our modern world. While I assume that I am somewhat carrying coals to Newcastle for my present audience, I encourage everyone to carry the message to younger generations, especially children.

What is this skill? Reading.

If one cannot read, one is crippled in almost every aspect of modern life. From performing our jobs to something as simple as assembling those Christmas presents for the grandkids, reading is essential. If one cannot (or does not) read, being a good person, parent, employee, or citizen is extremely difficult if not impossible. Further, one misses the personal satisfaction of escaping into myriad worlds of imagination.

As a young boy, growing up when there was no internet and even TV and radio were primitive by today's standard, I escaped into books. I read everything. My parents would smile as I read the back of a cereal box as I took out the garbage. My favorite genre was science fiction and fantasy. I lost myself in the works of Verne, Wells, Asimov, Clarke, Heinlein, Ellison, Le Guin, Sturgeon, Niven and Anderson, to name a few. Science fiction opened up alternate realities filled with different societies and circumstances. In the process, it illuminated my own world. My constant reading was not only pleasurable but was a critical skill in my education.

In my middle teens I also discovered historical novels. I did not appreciate history as taught in schools both then and now. Dry facts and dates are just boring. I had read all the science fiction books in the library. In desperation, I picked up a book by Cecelia Holland. While fiction, her books are placed in particular times and couched in actual historical events. Reading them I wondered if she was true to actual history. Research showed she was. I soon discovered that history is actually a collection of stories with fascinating events and people. History shines a light onto the present. Truly, if you don't read history, you cannot understand the present and you are fated to make the same mistakes again.

Today I read mostly e-books. I carry a library in my hands. Through the internet and electronics, I can almost instantaneously find more information on a question than I can absorb. The hardest task is sifting the nuggets of truth from the dross. The timeliness of referencing information is excellent. The efficiency is significantly reduced in many cases by the quantity provided. While some intellectuals scoff, Wikipedia is a great starting point.

Please encourage your children and grandchildren (and great-grandchildren?) to read. They will be better in every way for it and so will everyone else. Enjoy reading yourself. It almost doesn't matter what you read. Find subjects or genres that interest you. The amount of free material online is amazing in its scope. All the classics of literature are available but any subject can be found and explored. Which brings me to my final point.

We are being subjected to a movement that is very disturbing. Public and private entities are increasingly censoring what we read and speak. We are told that speech is violence. It is not. We must endure no limits on what we read or say.

There undoubtedly are dangerous, disturbing, and unpleasant ideas. Much more dangerous is limiting our access to, and our ability to speak, them. Restrictions by parents on their children are prudent and necessary. Restrictions on adults are unacceptable.

As parents, we should limit our restrictions on our children as much as possible. As adults and citizens, we should resist restrictions on ourselves by anyone as the beginning of tyranny.

Ed Pole is an engineer, retired from IBM and Intel, and resides in Lacey. He is a member of the 2017 Olympian Board of Contributors. Contact him at ejp.olyboc@gmail.com.

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