The Christian writer C.S. Lewis is credited with saying, "We read to know we are not alone."
Mr. Lewis' statement might seem paradoxical. Outside of, say, the bedtime stories parents read to sleepy children, reading is typically considered a solitary exercise.
Yet it is the written word that allows those of generations long gone to speak to us today, often teaching valuable lessons. The essential skill of literacy presents a path whereby contemporary folks can appreciate the timeless wit of, say, Mark Twain and Cervantes — or develop a personal relationship with a journal-writing grandparent who lived decades before their birth.
Unfortunately, studies suggest reading has taken a hit in recent years. Children with easy access to time-devouring video games, MP3 players and literally hundreds of round-the-clock television stations may never discover the pleasure found in the pages of Treasure Island or a Nancy Drew mystery.
Adults, meanwhile, may dissect their own schedules and decide there's not enough time in a busy day to spend with a worthwhile book, magazine or newspaper.
But it was the Lord who taught through modern-day revelation, "Seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom" (Doctrine and Covenants 88:118).
Church members need only look to their leaders to find examples of lifelong book readers.
President Gordon B. Hinckley grew up in a home that prized books. This marvelous communicator's mastery of the written and spoken word likely began as young Gordon read and re-read the classics his wise parents made available.
While still a young man, he wrote of his personal love for language and books:
"It is both revealing and invigorating to occasionally set aside the worries of life, seek the company of a friendly book and mingle with the great of the earth, counsel with the wise of all time, look into the unlived days with prophets. . . . From the reading of 'good books' there comes a richness of life that can be obtained in no other way. . . . To become acquainted with real nobility as it walks the pages of history and science and literature is to strengthen character and develop life in its finer meanings" (Millennial Star, Dec. 21, 1937).
Meanwhile, countless members have likely been introduced to the poetic words of William Wordsworth or Henry Wadsworth Longfellow while enjoying a general conference message delivered by President Thomas S. Monson, another book lover.
A good book shared can also connect families across time and space.
A grandfather in his early 70s recently presented his 11-year-old grandson with an unusual Christmas gift — a well-worn, yellowed copy of the children's Western The White Indian Boy. The book had been the grandfather's favorite when he was a youngster, and when he recently thumbed through his boyhood copy his thoughts turned to his first grandson. The nostalgic grandfather wanted the boy he loved to vicariously experience the same adventure that had once provided escape and wonder. The grandson read The White Indian Boy in almost a single sitting.
Now the book fills a prominent spot in the 11-year-old's bookshelf and, one day, may be passed on to his own grandson.
The scriptures should remain at the top of anyone's "best book" list. They contain the words of the Lord and the sacred writings of His prophets. The scriptures are, at once, personal and communal. They remind us we are not alone.
Almost every week, the Church News publishes its familiar "Living by the scriptures" section featuring the personal accounts of readers who have found comfort and direction in the pages of the scriptures. Indeed, the Standard Works of the Church offer all across the globe the answers needed to navigate a troubled world. But first they must be read.
Church leaders also promise that families will become closer as they regularly gather in living rooms or around breakfast tables and read together the sacred words found in the scriptures.
In his April 1988 general conference address, President Ezra Taft Benson said one way members can perfect themselves and their families is by reading daily from books of scripture.
"Are we as families and individuals reading daily from the Book of Mormon and using its teachings to bless and perfect our lives and those of our children?" asked President Benson. "I rejoice in the thousands of members who are responding to this invitation and who testify of the blessings they are receiving."