Okay, here are some interesting (and a bit sad) statistics about reading in America from a 2004 study by The American Bookseller's Association:
80% of Americans did not buy or read a book in 2004.
70% of all American adults had not been in a bookstore in the previous five years.
58% of American adults never read a book after high school.
42% of university graduates never read another book.
I'm so disappointed in you, piggies.
See? I'm not really arrogant. I just seem to be because I read. (Alright, everyone together: "Oh no he di-hent!")
I finished two books this week that were, by coincidence, in interesting contrast to one another.
Taming the Tiger Within by Thich Nhat Hanh
Vietnamese Zen Buddhist master advises on how to conquer rage, jealousy, fear and the desire for revenge.
Night by Elie Wiesel
In this new translation by his wife Marion, Nobel Peace Prize Winner Elie Wiesel recounts his experience as a teen and Orthodox Jew of being sent, with his family, to the German death camp at Auschwitz.
Taming the Tiger Within is a meditation on reaching a higher level of consciousness -- a new (actually, ancient) enlightenment. It is a journey of faith.
"Recognize and embrace your anger when it manifests itself. Care for it with tenderness rather than suppressing it."
Night demonstrates vividly how the Nazi death camps attempted (and frequently succeeded) in debasing their prisoners until they became barely animals, scratching and clawing for food, warmth, and survival. It is a harrowing tale about a young man's loss of faith.
"One day when we had come to a stop, a worker took a piece of bread out of his bag and threw it into a wagon. There was a stampede. Dozens of starving men fought desperately over a few crumbs . . . Men were hurling themselves against each other, trampling, tearing at and mauling each other. Beasts of prey unleashed, animal hate in their eyes."
However, as disturbing and disheartening as the story of Night is, the existence of the book itself stands as a hallmark of humanity's ultimate triumph over inhumanity.
Wiesel spoke these word in 1986 during his acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize.
"We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must -- at that moment -- become the center of the universe. . .
"We know that every moment is a moment of grace, every hour an offering; not to share them would mean to betray them.
"Our lives no longer belong to us alone; they belong to all those who need us desperately."
When I was in college, I went to a Martin Luther King Day rally (yes, there was a girl involved). While there, I noticed an elderly man in full black-face make-up. Shortly after I noticed him, a large group of angry African-American students noticed him, too. I turned to my friend and said, "That old guy is going to get himself killed." I was closer to the man than the angry students, so I ran over to him first.
"Excuse me, sir, but what do you think you're doing ?" I asked.
He didn't say anything. He just pulled up the sleeve on his left arm, and I could see a faded tattoo: a series of letters and numbers indelibly marked on his forearm.
That's about the time that the other students showed up. I turned around, waved my arms, and said, "Hold it just a second, guys. This man was in the Nazi concentration camps. He survived the death camps."
They stopped in their tracks, and nobody said anything for a moment. The black face make-up was this man's way of showing his solidarity with Martin Luther King's message. Then one of the guys nodded his head and said, "Word." (Well, it was the nineties.) We all stood there for a while and listened to the old man talk about what Dr. King meant to him, and then we all got a brief history lesson, first-hand.
Taming the Tiger Within is a useful book. Pick it up, and keep it nearby to peruse from time to time. Night is an important book. Read it. Cover to cover. (I read it in one night. I felt guilty every time I started to set it down, so I just kept reading.) Then give it to someone else. And tell them to pass it on.