I’ll admit it: I watch too much television.
I probably watched less when I was growing up. Part of that is because we had a neighborhood full of kids and there was usually a pickup baseball or football game going on Saturday afternoon — or almost any time during the summer.
Part was because Dad usually controlled the remote on weekends and his taste in movies didn’t always line up with mine. Yes, he introduced me to Star Wars, but he also had a fondness for old films he grew up watching. I didn’t get it. I can appreciate Bela Lugosi’s performance in “Dracula” and the work of art the film is, but it never struck me as particularly scary. He slept with the sheets around his neck for a week after seeing it as a kid.
But the biggest part was probably the fact my parents barred me from watching television during the week if my grades weren’t up to snuff. Once I figured out that anything other than straight-As meant trouble, I quit playing the game. My grades tanked. And, since I didn’t watch a huge amount of television anyway, the punishment wasn’t particularly effective.
I knew they wouldn’t take away my books. They knew I knew that. So I read constantly. It wasn’t unusual for me to read for eight hours or so per day, and everything was fair game. My parents might have put limits on what television and movies I watched, but they set no limits on what books I could read.
By my junior year of high school I was working in a bookstore. One of the old B. Dalton stores in the mall not too far from my home. It was a nearly perfect job for me at the time, and it lasted until I went to college.
That’s why the closure of bookstores, announced earlier this week by Gov. Kim Reynolds, felt like a gut punch. I don’t disagree with the effort to prevent crowds from gathering. That, right now, is a must. But a significant part of me still rebels against the suggestion that, somehow, books aren’t essential.
Think for a moment what books can do. We can understand what people who have been dead for centuries thought and did because they wrote it down. The teachings of Socrates are known, albeit secondhand, because of Plato. We can read letters from soldiers to their families during wartime and diaries of explorers, expanding our experiences through theirs.
Fiction works a different kind of magic. Until recently, scientists thought a planet’s orbit around a binary star system would probably be too unstable to last. Writers imagined them, though, with the most famous example probably being Tatooine in Star Wars.
Now the evidence exists that such systems not only exist, but that there are different types of such systems. It has even led some to speculate that Tatooine was likely a co-planar circumbinary planet. The explanation is a bit long to get into here, but the point is that we now know there is a parallel in reality for something recently thought to be entirely fictional.
I’m looking forward to when the stores reopen. I have my reading list now, and it will last for a week or two. If that runs out, I always have old favorites I can go back to. But I also know I’ll probably have a new reading list by the time the stores reopen.
That is, if I remember to turn off the television. I’m not banned from watching it now, and I probably watch too much.