Thursday, July 24, 2014

`A Secret Influence on the Understanding'

Had my reader been physically present, his voice, surely, would have trembled. I might have asked him to take a seat and offered an aspirin or glass of water. Clearly, he was making an effort to control his emotions, like a man about to deliver momentous news. He had a book he wanted me to read, one that has changed his life. “I know how important books are to you,” he wrote, and recalled my cardiac scare of several years ago. “I know you probably think you’re a happy and healthy person, but you’re really not. That’s just your mind giving you the wrong message.” To clear things up, he urged me to read You Are the Placebo: Making Your Mind Matter (Hay House, 2014) by Joe Dispenza, a chiropractor. 

Of my reader’s good intentions I have no doubts; of his understanding of my bookish bent, I’m skeptical. My idea of self-help is keeping Charles Lamb handy, though I’m touched and impressed when people find power in a book. Perhaps all dedicated readers harbor the notion that some book, some day, if they persist, will transform them – reading as a form of human alchemy. In The Adventurer #137, Dr. Johnson is remarkably sanguine about the benign sway of books over readers: 

“Books have always a secret influence on the understanding; we cannot at pleasure obliterate ideas: he that reads books of science, though without any fixed desire of improvement, will grow more knowing; he that entertains himself with moral or religious treatises, will imperceptibly advance in goodness; the ideas which are often offered to the mind, will at last find a lucky moment when it is disposed to receive them.”

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