Making Friends of Books
“Of making many books there is no end.” (Ecclesiastes 12:12)
Who would not count it an honor to have among her friends the wisest, noblest, and best of earth, and have their friendship so intimate that at any time she might go to them and converse with them and have their opinions upon the matters of importance? If only one such friend were yours or mine, should we not feel honored indeed, and would we not cultivate that friendship that if possible our lives might be brightened by the association? I am certain that each one of us would feel just such an interest in so exalted a friendship.
Would you be surprised if I should tell you that such a friendship is possible, not only with one or two superior persons, but with all the wisest and best of all time? That is the fact in the case. We are all provided with means by which we may become acquainted with those who have moved earth’s masses most, whose lives have influenced most people for good, knowing the very motives and desires of their hearts and learning exactly what their opinions were or are. The medium for all this wonderful knowledge is the printed page. Through books we may, very intimately, know the wisest and best. I may take a book and go into the quietness of my room and there read, as a great personal letter, what the author has to say, and there compare his views with those of others and with my own, gathering wisdom for my personal store. What a privilege this!
It is said that a person becomes like his friends. This is a very truthful saying, for association makes a great difference in the life of anyone. Especially is this true of the young. Boys and girls in the teens will almost certainly be like those with whom they most intimately associate, especially if they have chosen their associates. Like begets like, and we naturally seek out and enjoy those who are congenial to us, passing by those whose tastes and manners are offensive. It is not only the personal touch that makes this likeness, but the exchange of ideas. By the interchange of thought and expression all become to a great extent one, each giving to the other something of himself, and receiving to himself of the other.
What is true of personal friendships is also true of book friendships. If I choose only the books that I like to read, and after a while give you a list of those books, you can know, though you never see me face to face, just what kind of person I am, just how my thoughts run, and what I admire most in people and things. And if I habitually choose books that I believe will be the best for me, and read them carefully until I understand them and make their thoughts my own, I will in time become like those books in thought, and will be lifted out of the rut I naturally would have run in.
When a girl chooses her friends she should as much as possible select those who will be a help to her. If she chooses the quiet, modest, sincere, earnest girls for her friends, she will become like them; but if her friends are mostly the thoughtless, giddy kind, though she had been a reasonably sensible girl in the beginning, she will soon be as her companions.
So it is with books. If a girl will choose her books from those whose ideals are high and whose language is pure and clean, unconsciously she will mold her life like to those portrayed in the books she reads; but if her book friends are the giddy, impure, unchaste kind, you may be certain that the girl will become like them.
I have heard the assertion that to go to any girl’s bookcase and there study for a little while the books she reads, will give to one a true estimate of that girl’s character, and I believe this is in the main true.
If a girl is interested in history she may have at her command the works of educated men who have made history a special study, and there she may seek out just what they have learned on the particular point that interests her. If she is interested in science, medicine, art, chemistry, music, or business, in books she can find the thoughts and conclusions of those who have made these a life study.
Every girl likes in one way or another the social side of life. By going to the proper kind of authors she may get glimpses of and even come into intimate acquaintance with, the lives of the purest and noblest of earth. She can through her book friends converse with people of the highest and noblest ideals. Or she may seek out those whose lives are foul and bitter and enter with them into their dark deeds, smudging her young heart with the worst sins of the world.
I believe every girl would be able to choose rightly if, when she begins a book, she would ask herself these questions: Would I like to read this book aloud to my mother? Would I feel honored in intimately knowing the people of this book in real life? Would pure society approve of the conduct of these story-people? Can I profitably make my life pattern after the ideals I here find? Would the reading of this book help me to better serve my Lord? If these questions can be answered in the affirmative, then she may safely read the book; but if not, even though the book is very enticing, let her put it away, for it is poison.
The reading of love stories in which the lovers have secret meetings in dark and lonely places, embrace and caress each other, and whose acts stir the fever of romance and imagination of the reader, is very detrimental to young girls, and is good for no one. Stories of murder and crime that stir the mind with horror or excitement, or that make heroes of evil characters, are not good for the young people. It is almost as bad to read books that make you intimate with bad characters as to make personal friends of that sort of people. In both you learn their intimate thoughts and motives, and will condone their wrongs if their personality has appealed to you. More or less, my young reader, you will be like these people whom you admire and like to read about.
Light, frivolous reading brings the brain into a condition where it is almost impossible for it to grasp and hold weighty matter. When the girl who habitually reads novels undertakes to read anything that requires thought, she seems to be only uttering words, and not comprehending a thing. She will throw the book down and say, “It is not interesting, and I see nothing in it.” But let her keep at the heavier reading, going over and over the same paragraph or chapter till she does understand it—she will in time become able to grasp the thoughts as she reads. And if she keeps on at the deep reading, she will lose her appetite for the light stuff; it will seem chaffy and foolish to her.
It will not hurt any girl to read a few stories; and, in fact, if the right kind of stories are chosen she will learn much that is useful and good through story reading. But she who wishes to become educated and make her reading a means of culture must select the greater portion of her books from those authors who deal with facts in life. Works of history, biography, and other branches of learning are good for all. Books of travel are very good, for they make one acquainted with the people of other lands. In the great field of choice, pick out those book friends that will widen the outlook and lift up the standards of life.
Books can be the greatest of blessing in the life of a girl, or they can become her curse. Which will you have them to be in yours?