"We read to know we're not alone."
That line is heard at least three times in Shadowlands, the 1993 movie starring Anthony Hopkins as C.S. Lewis and Debra Winger at Joy Gresham, which I watched again last night. It's a neat line, but how true is it? Often we read because we are alone or we seek to find solitude so that we can read in peace. Yet just because we are around other people does not mean we cannot feel alone. I tend to feel lonelier at parties than I do when I am home by myself, especially if I am reading.
While in college I wrote a short verse that, I think, expresses something of what that line from Shadowlands says. As I remember it, it went something like this:
my friend, the book,
holds my hand
on lonely nights
With a book, one gets a physical presence, something to hold in one's hand, as well as, if it's the right book, a sense of community, of communication, of commonality. A book is not just an author's monologue. The reader engages in the conversation, too, even if one's thoughts never leaves one's own mind.
A particularly good book will express the reader's own ideas and observations better than the reader ever could. How sweet it is to read something that expresses one's own feelings perfectly. Sometimes that happens in everyday conversation, but usually not. When reading good books, that happens frequently.
Books are all about communication, and it is through communication that we know we are not alone.