David Baldacci

David Baldacci photo by Allen Jones

"Book banning and book burning...unfortunately, have a long shelf life. And readers know neither has ever had good historical outcomes, quite the reverse."

I was born and raised in heavily segregated Richmond, Virginia, the old capital of the Confederacy. I grew up with people who, to this day, believe the “old ways” were best, and we should make all due haste to return to them. What perhaps saved me from a similar fate was reading. I would go to the library and learn about folks who didn't look, speak, learn, or pray like me, but we shared the common core of humanity.

When I read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, I didn't realize it was just the warmup for Huck Finn, and his momentous acceptance of choosing an eternity in hell over ratting out his friend, who happened to be a Black slave. Harper Lee continued my education with To Kill A Mockingbird, but her “savior” story had limitations and suffered from what I would term “blinder boundaries” of a white person writing about the Black experience in America. However, Native Son by Richard Wright, Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, and Go Tell It On the Mountain by James Baldwin brought it all home for me and fueled my escape from a life perspective that still engages far too many.

Baldwin Ellison Wright © Montage JA : Ulf Andersen / Aurimages via AFP

James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, and Richard Wright © Montage JA : Ulf Andersen / Aurimages via AFP

My belief is that readers are more far tolerant, curious, open-minded, and willing to change their minds when presented with compelling evidence than are nonreaders. Those who embrace books have a firm context within which to place and measure current events. Two such examples are book banning and book burning, which, unfortunately, have a long shelf life. And readers know neither has ever had good historical outcomes, quite the reverse.

Opening a book for me is a welcoming invitation into the author's imagination. As a reader I longed to be a writer, the one whose imagination others would be invited to visit. When I write a book, I give readers a template only. And a book is never depleted to zero until the last reader experiences it. The half-life of uranium has nothing on books!

Next time you open a book, appreciate the work and discipline that went into it. And then sit back and commence to lay your own imprimatur on the story—it's a way to keep books alive forever, which should be our sacred duty.