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Good magic

Do you remember the day you learned to read? I do. I even remember the first word I read for myself, the one that woke me up to the wild idea that I had the keys to deciphering all the marks on all the pages of all the books in the whole world. Well, the books written in English, anyway.

This was back in the days when kindergarten was play time. The real work didn’t start until first grade, and then phonics ruled. This particular memory begins, not in class with Miss Simpson, but at home after school as I explained to my mother that R and E and D each made their own sounds, and if you put them together, they spelled RED. I think she pretended it was news to her so she wouldn’t deflate my excitement. She needn’t have worried.

Last year, I sat down with a friend who wanted to start writing a book, and I tried to share with her some of the most basic principles of writing. The most fundamental thing I could tell her was that words are a sacred gift from God and we shouldn’t treat them lightly. Those marks we make on paper–the symbols that represent sounds that form words that we string together into sentences–they’re the thoughts of one mind, recorded so they can be accessed later by another mind, a world away. A century away. Words can time-travel.

I remember a night when I’d been reading Tolkien out loud to our youngest, who was nine or ten at the time. On his way up the stairs to bed, he stopped and looked at me with an awestruck expression, probably the same way I’d looked when I figured out RED. “Mom,” he said, “it’s like a book holds magic inside.”


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