A Lecture by Neil Gaiman on the Importance of Day-Dreaming & Libraries.

Via Andrea Charpentier
on Feb 8, 2014
get elephant's newsletter

love books

How Reading Edifies the Heart, Mind & Soul.

For me, reading began as a perfunctory act.

I learned how to do it the same way I learned how to tie my shoes—it was simply something that I had to do. There was little love involved. I haven’t clue one what schools are like in Korea now, but back then, reading was a skill to be learned, not a passion to be cultivated.

Thankfully, this changed in the second grade. I was wandering aimlessly through the school library in an attempt to just be alone and unbothered in quiet solitude when I happened upon a copy of Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty. I liked the picture on the cover and wanted to try and draw it and eventually started reading the book as well.

I was happily surprised at what happened next: I was fascinated.

I learned for the first time I wasn’t the only person in the world to anthropomorphize animals and was thrilled to read something that gave a voice to creatures that everyone else around me seemed to take for granted.

A flood-gate was opened as I wondered what else was between the covers of all the books that I had previously not given a second glance. I was on fire. After Black Beauty came Watership Down and Mrs. Frisby & the Rats of Nimh. Charlotte’s Web was followed by The Cricket in Times Square and my present-day desire to have a self-sustaining life while being at one with the environment was ignited upon reading Island of the Blue Dolphins. I read James and the Giant Peach so many times the pages eventually came loose from the spine and I still have my copy of Nancy Drew: The Clue of the Broken Locket.

At the same time, I became enthralled by comic books. I would lose myself in the epic battles, the tragic love stories, the triumphs, the tribulations; the eternal fight between good and evil was fantastically wrought by Chris Claremont’s Classic X-Men series and will forever remain in my heart.

As I grew older I discovered other books, other authors. I fell cuckoo-bananas in love with Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. and discovered the harsh beauty of Harper Lee and Alice Walker. My taste in comics evolved as well as I began reading the works of David Mack, the Hernandez brothers and Neil Gaiman.

Ah, Neil Gaiman. Now there’s a writer. This man does it all: comic books, short story collections, poetry, novels, children’s books, screenplays. His passion for books and stories and the loving respect he has for the power they possess gives me hope for humanity.

I have caught flak from people throughout my life because of my reading habits, especially my habit of reading the same title over and over again. I have been told it’s dumb (yes, dumb); I have been told it’s a waste of time; I have been told that it is a pointless endeavor simply used to escape from the realities of life.

My rebuttal to those statements is a simple one: reading is for the edification of one’s heart, mind and soul.

Reading enriches our viewpoint, our outlook on life, enabling us to ponder and wonder over things that we may never have pondered or wondered over before. Reading can provide insight and guidance for situations that we may otherwise not be equipped to handle: finding out at the age of 18 that I had a long-lost sister was a conversation that my mother and I had an easier time with since we were both huge Amy Tan fans. Yes, reading is an escape—into a training room. It beefs us up, helps prepare us for all kinds of things life may throw at us at any given moment. It strengthens our ability to empathize and sympathize.

Rereading is equally important. People and their opinions change as time wears on and to go back and read something like To Kill a Mockingbird at the age of 28 after reading it last at the age of 14 is an incredibly cathartic experience. Other times, rereading the same book can serve as a good reminder that a person is still in touch with their inner child when they derive the same joy from revisiting a childhood favorite that they had upon first discovering the tale; this experience can also be enormously satisfying.

More than ever there is talk about living healthy, eating healthy, exercising regularly. Hear me now, people: this goes for the intangible parts as well. Too many of us are mentally, emotionally and ultimately spiritually malnourished. The imagination is stagnating, mired in the muck of instant-gratification reality TV and endless newsfeeds. Lift weights, jog, practice yoga, juice for a week—but work that brain muscle, too.

Last October, Neil Gaiman gave an excellent lecture about the importance of reading, libraries and day-dreaming that can (ahem, should) be read here. It’s long; it’s beautiful; and, if you’re a passionate reader like myself, it can move you to tears.

And, hey, while we’re on the subject—

Without thinking about it too hard and agonizing over the many titles to choose from, here is my top 15 reading list in no particular order that have helped shape my own heart, mind and soul over the years:

1)      A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

2)      The Temple of Gold by William Goldman

3)      The Color Purple by Alice Walker

4)      To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

5)      Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

6)      Quo Vadis by Henryk Sienkiewicz

7)      Les Misérables (unabridged) by Victor Hugo

8)      Psshhh, all Kurt Vonnegut

9)      Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger

10)   One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

11)   The entire Space Odyssey series by Arthur C. Clarke

12)   The Rum Diary by Hunter S. Thompson

13)   The Neverending Story by Michael Ende

14)   The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers

15)   Lord of the Flies by William Golding

What are your favorite books and how did you come to your love of reading?

Love elephant and want to go steady?

Sign up for our (curated) daily and weekly newsletters!

Editor: Cat Beekmans
Photos: elephant journal archives


About Andrea Charpentier

Andrea Charpentier began her love of reading and writing in the back issue boxes of comic books that dominated her family’s hobby shop. Raised by a Catholic Yankee and a Buddhist Korean in the Deep South, life was anything but conventional to say the least. She is self-appointed Queen of Felines, lover of great literature, adores traveling to foreign lands, and is in constant pursuit of the next best flavor of ice cream.


16 Responses to “A Lecture by Neil Gaiman on the Importance of Day-Dreaming & Libraries.”

  1. Kim says:

    Interpreter of maladies, the little prince, into the wild

  2. Suzi Banks Baum says:

    Oh, what truth you write here Andrea. I have this visceral memory of tipping my chin over a stack of books in my arms to steady the tippy topmost book on our weekly Saturday fuel stops at the library in our town. I love to read and appreciate your comment about re-reading.
    In terms of books on my list- some of yours are on mine too, but I'd have to add- The Secret Garden, all the Little House Books,
    Erica Jong's Fear of Flying was the first book a teacher confiscated from me, I read Goldmans' Boys and Girls Together all through my college graduation…but lately, Terry Tempest Williams' book When Women Were Birds surges to the top of my list. If you haven't read it yet, please do.
    The library in my town is one of the best places ever. Lots of reading nooks and access to the statewide network of libraries. When we travel, we always find the library in the town we visit. Wellfleet MA has one of the best public libraries I have ever been in.
    Thanks for your thoughts. xo S

  3. Jeanne says:

    "a pointless endeavor simply used to escape from the realities of life" This has been what the nagging small voice from one part of my conscience tries to tell me every time I re-read a book. That part that always feels a need to make a check mark on the to-do list. Thank you for pointing out how ridiculous that voice really is. My mother taught me to read at the same time I was learning to talk. And now I much prefer reading to talking! My 13 year old son amazingly still allows me to read out loud to him before bed, and as soon as we finish our current book we will start To Kill a Mockingbird. I can't wait to dig into it with him. Thank you for your thoughts, I'm looking forward to reading the Neil Gaiman lecture.

  4. Star says:

    Thank you Ms. Andrea for re-igniting my love for libraries and books! I am ashamed to admit that I have become very dependent on my iPhone to catch up on current affairs, news and updates on my friends' lives. I will say that I am grateful for the internet as a convenient way for me to stay in touch with my people as I am a constant globe-trotter. But boy, did this really make me wanna get back and hit the books! Thank you for the inspiration.

  5. B.J. says:

    What a wonderful article and an excellent reading list… to say that I am "cuckoo-bananas in love with Kurt Vonnegut, Jr." would be the understatement of the year. I've not yet read "The Temple of Gold" so I will be sure to add that to my own list!

  6. Andrea says:

    Great books, all! I've yet to read Interpreter of Maladies but it's been on my list for a while, I'm excited to read it. Thanks for sharing and thanks for reading, Kim!

  7. Andrea says:

    Leaving the library with a stack of books bubbling with anticipation is a childhood memory everyone should have, it is indeed such a rich one. When I was a kid I was hooked on Nancy Drew and The Baby-Sitter’s Club and now that I actually think about it, I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that even though I finished a book I knew there were so many more, the story never ended in a way, I loved the series. Probably why I loved comic books so much, too.
    The Secret Garden! That’s an excellent book! It’s such a meditative story and I always loved the message: so much can grow from just a little sunshine and human kindness. I will definitely check out your recommendations! I’ve been meaning to delve into more Goldman but wasn’t quite sure where to start (wow, that guy has written a lot!). Glad to get a lead! The only other book of his that I’ve read is The Princess Bride. I love it, but haha, I’ll actually stick with the movie’s ending, I don’t know what Goldman was thinking!
    What a cool idea to make it a point to check out the town library while traveling. A practice I’ll have to incorporate! Thanks for the great idea!
    Thanks so much for reading my piece, Suzi, I’m so glad it spoke to you!

  8. Andrea says:

    Wow, that is so cool you and your son read with each other! What a great ritual! Do you always read books or do you ever do anthologies, short story collections and the like?
    Yes, I used to feel guilty when I reread things until I realized how much I had changed in between decades. It’s one thing to have a different opinion from someone else about a book and quite another when you end up disagreeing with yourself over time! It can also be much more rewarding as far as being able to personally examine and evaluate yourself and realize how much you’ve changed as a person, for better or worse. It’s a great guidance for character and can serve as a powerful moral compass. What would I do in that situation? How would I react? Of course it’s all speculation, you never know how you’re going to react to something until you’re actually in the moment, but at least we as readers actually take the time to seriously ruminate on the matter via story and, dare I say, it prepare us better mentally and emotionally to handle an important matter that could come up.
    Thank you so much for reading, Jeanne, and yes! Definitely read the Gaiman lecture, it’s absolutely wonderful and the inspiration behind my writing this piece.

  9. Andrea says:

    Thank you so much for your awesome words, Star! Yes, the internet is a great tool and incredibly convenient, I would be a liar if I said I wasn’t on it every day. I tell myself a virtual vow of silence may need to be set in place soon, haha!, if only for a little while.
    The thing I love about the library is how it’s a community Fortress of Solitude. It’s a quiet place filled with knowledge that anybody can go to, it’s somehow very calming to know that we’re all in this building together each deeply within our own world while losing ourselves in the pages of a book, doesn’t matter what the book is, whether it’s for a research paper, personal enjoyment, etc. Have fun getting reacquainted with the literary world! I’m glad I was able to serve as the inspiration behind it!

  10. Andrea says:

    Thank you, B.J.! Yes, Vonnegut is the man! Another book that really, really, REALLY should be on the list is One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey. I was (((this close))) to putting it on the list in lieu of Lord of the Flies. The only reason Lord of the Flies won out is because it pulls seniority: I read Golding when I was 12 and Kesey when I was 14, so Golding it was.
    I discovered The Temple of Gold several years ago while waiting for a train in Prague. It was in a lending basket at the hostel I was staying at and I almost missed my train because of it (which would have been a Very Bad Thing). I recently went to Belize and gave it away to a girl who said she missed having books to read and I last heard from a friend that it is currently making steady rounds on Ambergris Caye, an island off the coast of Belize. It’s an incredibly intense read that has a profound resonance with people. Who knows, maybe one day it will end up back in Prague. 🙂 Enjoy, and thanks for reading my piece!!

  11. AK says:

    I love it that you included “Quo Vadis”‘. I was born in Poland and lived there until 16 so that book was the most revere classic. And I just loved the story. The Trilogy is just an incredible read. Thanks for the other titles. I’ll have to add a few to my list.

  12. mikeluque says:

    I've had people who mocked me for rereading the same books. Some of my favorite books, including a few from Neil Gaiman, I've read 5+ times. And I have a great rebuttal to people who dismiss multiple readings: When you purchase a new album, do you only listen to it once? What's the difference??

  13. Peta says:

    Reading, libraries and cats – I think you must be a sister! Thanks so much for this post. Just back from visiting the new Birmingham library at the weekend – beautiful. My husband indulges me and we always visit libraries when we go away if there is one nearby – last year Paris, Munich, Milan and Venice – on one lovely tour by train. I too remember Saturday morning trips to the library and my collection of library cards/reader's passes are by far more important than my payment cards in my purse. I read the whole collection of Chalet School books and couldn't wait to go away to school at 11. I also love books about books – especially People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks and The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafron. Favourite re-read is Sense & Sensibility. Favourite British library is the British library – King George's Tower takes some beating – and favourite local library is Gladstone's in Hawarden, Flintshire – beautiful gothic Victorian interior – and run on old school of being quiet. Often all you can hear is the tap, tap, tap of a keyboard….. :>)

  14. Andrea says:

    Oh, wow, I had no idea Quo Vadis was part of a trilogy! That's great news, I can't wait to read the other titles. Thanks for reading, AK!b 🙂

  15. Andrea says:

    That's a very good point, I'll have to remember that one! Why are people so hung up on rereading? Quite strange.

  16. Andrea says:

    Thanks for reading, Peta, glad you enjoyed it! I'll have to check out some of those titles! Old libraries are the best. 🙂