Human life, despite its hardships, problems, and sufferings, offers us a variety of pleasures ranging from purely physical and sensuous to the aesthetic, philosophical, and spiritual. Of these, the reading of books can alone combine the aesthetic, intellectual, and spiritual. Books appeal to our heart, our sense of beauty, our intellect, and our soul simultaneously. “A good book,” said John Milton, “is the precious life-blood of a master spirit, embalmed and treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life.” Books are, indeed, a source of information, knowledge, wisdom, and aesthetic pleasure. Often, as in works of literature, they combine all of these in one volume.
The joys of reading are far too many to be listed and explained, for they vary from book to book and reader to reader. Even ordinary stories of adventure, love, and romance satisfy, vicariously, of course, some of our unfulfilled desires buried deep in our subconscious minds. Similarly, stories of revenge, malice, and crime provide a safe and healthy outlet for some of our baser instincts. What is more, such tales make us forget, momentarily, the worries and tensions of our humdrum life. They provide a brief escape so that we can face these problems boldly and with a fresh mind and spirit.
Books of great literature are a class by themselves. Apart from providing us with healthy aesthetic pleasure, they make us aware of the various possibilities and mysteries of our life. A work like Sophocles’ Oedipus the King emphasizes how noble, intelligent, and yet how fated and doomed our life can be. Works of Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Rabindranath Tagore, Dostoevoesky and many other master minds depict the heightened possibility of life. Poems by Wordsworth, Shelley, Keats, Yeats, Whitman, Frost, and many Indian poets such as Prasad, Nirala, and Shiv Batalvi, provide their varied dishes of aesthetic pleasure.
Then there are books belongings to different disciplines of study which provide us knowledge of different branches. By reading them, we can increase our knowledge and exercise our minds. Books of science, art, and languages familiarize us with the knowledge and wisdom of great thinkers and philosophers. They provide food for our intellect. Man does not live by bread alone. He must have food for his thoughts and this is what many books give. Biographies of great men act as a source of great inspiration. Religious books familiarize us with the doctrines of great saints and prophets and make us aware of their mystic and spiritual experiences.
Books are, thus, our noble and undemanding companions, guides, teachers, and counselors. They entertain us when we are happy and lift and ennoble our spirits when we are in a state of misery, gloom, and despair. Our friends and relatives may desert us, but books remain our unfailing and lifelong friends. The pleasure they provide is pure and ennobling, powerful, and lasting. It is no wonder, then, that Bacon, himself an erudite scholar and avid reader of books, stressed the advantages of reading in his pithy statement: “Reading makes a full man”.