Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Books


Reading is a wonderful pastime.  There are scores of books written on a countless number of topics; so many that it is difficult to comprehend.  Often books take us places we have never been, and allow us to go through experiences we otherwise would not have encountered. With books we can even travel through time–to the past or the future, the choice is yours.  Occasionally a book will influence us so profoundly that the ideas trapped between the pages of print refuse to leave us once they have taken hold in our thoughts and ideas.  I recently found examples of two such books. Each one so profoundly influenced their reader’s ideas that they changed the individual’s awareness, understanding and endeavors. 

David Levy is an amateur astronomer, known for discovering over twenty comets so far in his lifetime. Levy has spent countless hours under dark starry skies and as a result has become quite expert in his knowledge of astronomy and has contributed a great deal to the field.  A book that profoundly influenced Levy and which he considers his Astronomy Bible is Leslie Peltier’s Starlight Nights: The Adventures of a Star-Gazer.  Peltier, born in 1900 was also an amateur astronomer.  He spent his nights studying comets, novae and variable stars, much like Levy has done. Levy has read, reread and quoted from Peltier’s book so many times that his copy has been rebound with a dark blue leather cover and blank pages have been added which Levy fills with lists of each talk he has given and quoted from Peltier’s book; this has been nearly every talk he has presented.  Sometimes, when Levy attended an astronomy meeting the guest speaker failed to show up so Levy simply stepped up, with his Astronomy Bible in hand and gave a lecture, throughout sharing passages from Peltier’s pages.  These words have become such a part of Levy that he can speak at length about a topic he loves with the companionship of his favorite book and friend.  After learning of Levy’s never tiring interest of Peltier’s book I am interested in reading it myself to find what magic lies between it’s pages.

The author, David Roberts, also read an influential book.  Roberts has successfully written several books about mountaineering and exploration and is quite knowledgeable on the subject of Arctic and Antarctic studies.  One day a colleague told Roberts of a book, In the Land of White Death written by Valerian Albanov in 1928, which surprisingly Roberts had never heard of before. He searched out the text in his library and found a copy.  It had never been checked out once in the sixty-eight years it sat on the library shelf. As Roberts began reading the pages of this neglected text, he discovered that it contained the amazing account of Valerian Albanov’s story of survival in the Arctic.  Roberts was riveted to the unfolding of this tale however, one passage captured his attention more than any other and it changed the direction of his entire life for a time.  As Roberts read of Albanov’s desperate condition, he was drawn to Albanov’s mere mention that his team could be successful because he knew of a group of four Russian sailors who survived for six years in the Arctic in the 1700s.  Roberts had never heard of these four survivors in all of his studies of the Arctic and his mind could not escape the desire to learn more about them. Roberts spend the next few years, researching and making trips to Russia and the Arctic to find out the truth about these early unfortunate explorers.  The entire course of his life changed because of a simple paragraph in the book he had read.

As I have recognized the power that these books had on Levy and Roberts, I have wondered which books I would treat with such respect and admiration.  I have read many books in my life but wonder which ones have changed my thoughts, beliefs and possibly the course of my life.  What is a book that you have read which has profoundly influenced you in some way; one that you have read and reread throughout the years, one that you never stop learning from?

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Ferris, Timothy. Seeing in the Dark (New York, London, Toronto and Sydney: Simon & Schuster, 2002) 157-159.

Roberts, David. Four Against the Arctic (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2003).

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