“Books give a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and life to everything.” — Plato
The human race for thousands of years has been writing experiences, telling how it has met our everlasting problems, how it has struggled with darkness and rejoiced in light. What fools we should be to try to live our lives without the guidance and inspiration of the generations that have gone before.
Books, particularly those classified as Classic Literature, are simply life selected and condensed into words. The expression of truth, the transmission of knowledge and emotions between man and man from generation to generation, these are the purposes of literature. Literature generally means light. Light of any kind is important. But the kind of mental, spiritual and moral light that can come from great literature can nourish our souls and give a tone to our lives that almost nothing else can.
The human mind itself is a possession of uncalculated value, but it needs to be lighted, charged and vitalized. The mind can get balance, reason, foresight and understanding from the thoughts of others. The right kind of ideas, properly introduced into the mind breeds initiative, moral courage, the will to grow, and a love of fairness. When the mind is not properly pollinated and vitalized by the inspiration of stimulating thoughts and uplifting ideals, much of its power is wasted. A chemist, a lawyer, or an inventor does not depend upon his own discoveries for his occupational success, he appropriates for his own use all of the tested methods and good ideas of all of the best men in his field. What an opportunity we have to enlighten the mind, teach the heart, enrich the soul, and charge ambition with power.
Most of our education comes through the experiences of others, and the greatest education is the awakening of the heart, and the arousing of the spirit. It is by these processes that we add to our own stature and increase the dimensions of our own lives. As Oliver Wendell Holmes pointed out, “A mind once stretched to a new idea never returns to its original dimensions.”
I personally have been inspired by Cato’s devotion to republicanism in the face of tyranny. Plato’s Allegory of the Cave has become, for me, the symbol of understanding John Adams Academy and its mission as I strive to continually move out of the shadows and seek truth, turning my soul to reorient it to correct and proper loves. Plutarch gives me lessons, both good and bad from the great leaders of history. The Founders didn’t just look to the classical world for the structure of American government but they used the classics to inform them of the type of personal character necessary of the citizenry for this republican democracy to be a success. I have faced moral quandaries with Jane Eyre and learned obstacles are overcome by ordinary characters. Elie Wiesel showed me that evil exists but also that the human spirit can triumph. Bad things can happen to good people. I came to understand patriotism from George Washington in his Farewell Address. I have pondered my own country’s story reading Gibbons. I have experienced joy in the sheer beauty of the language of Hawthorne. And then there is Elizabeth Bennett, and Snowball, Jo March, Falstaff, Atticus Finch, Huck Finn, Hamlet, Hester Prynne, Pip, Jean Valjean, Frodo Baggins, Aeneas, The Wife of Bath, Ebenezer Scrooge, Eeyore and Mr. Toad!
I faced moral dilemmas impossible to actually experience in my own life, free from consequences and I was able to contemplate suffering without really suffering. The list of characters and lessons learned and wisdom found grew longer and longer as I started making a list. Which is my favorite? It depends on the day and circumstance, which has been the most influential? Looking back 60 years, I don’t know. But I do know that the great books that are part of my life have given me the wisdom to be better at each stage of my life, a better person, a better wife, a better mother and grandmother. The great books have taught me how to better deal with other people and adversity, to recognize right and to have the courage to defend it and to know when I should remain silent.
What authors have changed you from the inside out?
—Linda Forman, Co-Founder of John Adams Academies
“Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.” —Frederick Douglass