Listen to episode 247 of the Inspirational Living podcast: On Being Human & Genuine. Edited and adapted from the essay On Being Human by Woodrow Wilson.
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Today’s reading was edited an adapted from the essay “On Being Human,” by Woodrow Wilson, published in the Atlantic Monthly in 1897.
It has been said, ironically, that the rarest sort of book is the one to be read, and that knack in style is to write like a human being. It is painfully evident (upon experience) that not many of the books which come teeming from our presses every year are meant to be read.
They are meant, it may be, to be pondered. And it is hoped, no doubt, that they may instruct, or inform, or startle, or arouse, or reform, or provoke, or amuse us. But we read, if we have the true reader’s zest for life, not to grow more knowing, but to be less pent up and bound within a little circle. We wish companionship and renewal of spirit, enrichment of thought and the full adventure of the mind; and we desire fair company, and a larger world in which to find them.
When we say that a book is meant to be read, we mean, for one thing, that it is not meant to be studied. We do not study a good story, or a haunting poem, or a love ballad, or any moving narrative, whether it be out of history or out of fiction — nor any well-reasoned argument, even. We do not have to study these things; they reveal themselves. They remain with us, and will not be forgotten or laid aside. They cling like a personal experience, and become the mind’s intimates.
You devour a book meant to be read, not to fill yourself or because you have an anxious care to be nourished, but because it contains such stuff as it makes the mind hungry to look upon. Neither do you read it to kill time, but to lengthen time — living more abundantly while it lasts, joining another’s life and thought to your own.
Such books are written by genuine human beings, and they possess a special tone and temper — or rather, an uncommon spirit touched with a light that shines clear out of some great source of light which not every person can uncover. We call this spirit human because it moves us; quickens a like life in ourselves; makes us glow with a sort of ardor of self-discovery. It touches the springs of fancy or of action within us, and makes our own life seem more quick and vital.