On recommending books

I don’t have kids, but I plan to have them one day. Since books are a huge part of my life, I plan to make books a big part of my future children’s lives. And that will start with me reading aloud to them, to me bringing them into the fantastical, imagined worlds that enraptured me as a child, and into book worlds new-to-me that respond to what I see makes their eyes and minds light up.

I came across this quote from Adam Smith while reading an article on empathy that made me think about why this part of my future child-rearing excites me. The quote is from Smith’s A Theory of Moral Sentiments, a book I am rapidly realizing should be much, much higher on my to-read list.

From Adam Smith:

“When we have read a book or poem so often that we can no longer find any amusement in reading it by ourselves, we can still take pleasure in reading it to a companion. To him it has all the graces of novelty; we enter into the surprise and admiration which it naturally excites in him, but which is no longer capable of exciting in us; we consider all the ideas which it presents rather in the light in which they appear to him, than in that in which they appear to ourselves, and we are amused by sympathy with his amusement which thus enlivens our own.” 

While my favorite books will always elicit some measure of joy, comfort, excitement, and wonder in my own personal reading (I can’t imagine I will ever lose that joy!), I do sometimes covet the experience of reading for the first time a book that has turned out to become one of my favorites. That novelty, that experience of discovering a treasure, is precious and beautiful and impossible to replicate in subsequent readings. What a joy to be able to pass along that experience to those I love.

I also feel this way when recommending books to others! (Isn’t reading books aloud to others just a very enthusiastic form of recommendation?) I also feel this way when giving books as gifts. Recommending, reading aloud, and giving books is essentially about sharing or recommending an experience. And I love the experience that is specific and peculiar to books. Because books are so much a part of the best of my life, I think there is something to the idea that I can measure the joy of my life, at least in part, to the extent I can share my treasured experience of some of my most treasured books and ideas.

So share your beloved books. Read them aloud to others, recommend them, give them away. And revel in their joyful discovery as you once reveled in your joyful discovery.

Now off to find a cheap copy of A Theory of Moral Sentiments so I can find more gems from Adam Smith.

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