When we moved into our current home several years ago, I was very unhappy. It was a nice house on a lovely piece of property with a one-acre pond and 12 acres of lush grass. However the home we left was built by us. I chose the house plans, made changes in the floor plan to suit our family, chose paint, flooring (oh, how I miss my Brazilian cherry floors.) This new house did not feel like home to me. It was someone else's idea of what a home should be. It wasn't until I brought in those unique touches that were meaningful to our lives that I could really say I belonged there. Now I am part of this place. I have taken up residence.
It is the same with the books we read. These books were written by another person, probably living in another time or place. We may have nothing in common with them except for their words. But when we bring to the book our own unique touches, the experiences of our lives that set us apart, the ideas take up residence in us and become part of us.
Ideas are powerful things. They are not, in and of themselves, tangible. They are not something we can see, smell or taste. But they can change lives and change the world far more than those tangible things we put so much stock in can do. The volatile thing about ideas is that they are unique to each person. Each time I read a book, I bring to the table my own life, experiences, presuppositions. Those ideas mix and mesh with those of the book and become my own in a way unlike those of anyone else who has ever read that book...my own personal culture.
The same is true for books shared with family. My family has shared so many books together. We each make our own connections in the reading because we are all distinct individuals. But in living with the book together it becomes part of our family's identity. It becomes casual discussions around the dinner table, knowing eye contact across the room, shared reminisces even years later...a family culture.
Ideas are so influential, however, that we don't even have to share the same book to be changed by them. Often when my oldest son comes home to visit, we inevitably get into an informal discussion, usually spawned by world events or something much less lofty, about something he has read but we haven't. As we discuss the ideas in a book that the other hasn't read we are stretched beyond our own personal experience. That, again, becomes part of our personal and family culture and ripples its way into the culture at large.
There is so much to be gained by reading. The ideas that take up residence in our hearts are the most life-changing reasons to pick up a book.