Education means the all-round development of our faculties – physical, mental and moral. For the education of the mind, nothing is more helpful than the study of books. Instructions imparted by teachers are, of course, necessary and useful in their own way, but perhaps even more valuable is the lesson that is quietly absorbed from the study of books. For it often happens that a man’s real development, as far as his mind is concerned, is due to the influence of the books that he reads. The novelist, Saratchandra Chatterjee, was not highly educated in the usual sense of the term but he had furnished and stocked his mind by a wide reading of books, and their influence on the make-up of his mind and on the essentials of his art was very great.
Hence, whatever arrangement we make for the education of boys and girls, ample provision must be made so that they can have the opportunity to read a large number of books, in a select library, of course. It is necessary to read books with discrimination, particularly in these days when all sorts of books are being published daily.
Reading of books must, therefore, be organized in such a way that we can derive the maximum of benefit from reading, like the bee that gathers only honey from the flower. The veteran reader knows what to read and how to benefit by that reading, i.e. how to sift.
Needless to say that, for this purpose, it is better for the reader to rely on the help and guidance of a well-read man. In Western countries, the librarian is invariably a man of this type. In our country, it is best to rely on the teacher. He knows the mental aptitude and capacity of his students and he gives his suggestion accordingly. By following his suggestions, therefore, the reader saves his time and avoids waste of labour.
Once, however, the reading habit is formed, one should be left to one’s own resources to follow the particular bent of one’s mind.
Books are a storehouse of ideas and information on a variety of subjects. By the study of books, readers gather knowledge. Further, good books are always an intellectual stimulant as also an enlightening companion. It excites the mind and provokes thought. Hence, the study of books often liberates the mind from the prejudices and conventional ways of thinking. It not only corrects errors but also improves judgment. Hence, it follows that books help out, minds to expand, to liberate, to arouse and dilate the mind as the American poet Whitman so admirably said.
The recreational value of reading is also to be taken into account. Taken in a broad sense, recreation rightly used, is a valuable aid to education. And there can be no better form of recreation than the reading of books, to get over depression and gloom.
Something must be said about the manner of reading books. Reading for education demands close application to the contents of the books. Swami Vivekananda could master the essential contents of a big book within minutes. He could do that by practice and concentration. He is a bad reader who passes over a word or a sentence without taking in its full meaning and implication. But there are also times when one skips over the pages of a book or just browses it in a leisurely manner. It depends, of course, upon the type of the book and the purpose of reading it.
“The bookful bloke-head ignorantly read” – is rightly viewed with contempt. Books cannot be the substitute of life, though Milton and Pope saw Nature through books. Reading is, no doubt, an important part of life, but it would be a mistake to equate it with living. So only good books that edify, elevate and tone up the mind should be read. Of course, the great book, that is the classics that have received the stamp of appreciation of readers down the ages, should be read as far as possible.