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Left Coast / Right Coast: Reading and the importance of the written word

Mike Gold living the dream in the Pacific Northwest. Photo credit: Nancy Gold.
Mike Gold living the dream in the Pacific Northwest. Photo credit: Nancy Gold.

By Mike Gold, A retired entrepreneur living the dream in the Pacific Northwest.

I got to thinking about just how much the written word means to us all. Just think, you can read up on just about any subject you wish.

This is so enlightening. And best of all, you can get this ability for nothing – at your local library, or perhaps also for free on the Internet.

In fact, a famous saying  (attributable to philosopher George Santayana) is: "Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it." So why do I reference that here? It’s simply because all our acquired knowledge is really based on those who came before us.

Think of something we take for granted, like the telescope. This Wikipedia site says a Dutchman was the first to patent it. However, it was the famous scientist Galileo who really adopted and improved it and first pointed it at the heavens. Now move forward to the present day. We have a number of very powerful telescopes that have been launched in space. Perhaps the most famous is the Hubble Space Telescope. This remarkable device can see so far into the universe, that it has revealed a number of significant things about the origin of the universe.

Now if all the predecessors of the telescope had failed to document it, then those that followed would have had to re-start the development process from scratch. By writing about it, it made it possible to start where our forbearers left off.

A similar thought can be made about human flight. I always thought the Wright Brothers invented heavier than air human flight. But lo and behold, there was a long history of heavier than air flight dating back to the 17th century. Again, if this had not been documented, who knows how long development of modern airplanes would have taken.

When you look at the Wright Brothers initial flight of just over 800 feet (which ended with a crash), then look at a modern military and/or commercial airplane, it is simply astounding how rapidly progress happened. From initial experiments, to airplanes that can fly at Mach 2 or faster.

As man developed better and better aircraft, it was the painstaking documentation of achievements step by step in more and more detail that paved the way for all this advancement. Again, the written word was crucial to these achievements.

Some of us simply can’t stop reading. For example, when I am sitting say on a public convenience, I can’t resist taking out my cell phone and looking up whatever subject happens to pop into my head. Even when I’m in line at the bank, I habitually take out the phone and read.

What are my favorite things to read? Well if it’s not about looking for specific information about something (I call that non-fiction reading), then I like to read for enjoyment. I like most of the books by James Patterson. What I particularly like about his books is that each chapter is only a few pages long. So I can read a full chapter in just a minute or two while waiting for a commercial to end on TV, or again, while waiting in any line. Other authors of whom I’m quite fond of include John Grisham, Tom Clancy (whose “The Hunt for Red October” is still among my favorite books), and Seattle’s own J.A. Jance.

All these writers are quite prolific. Patterson is so successful that he has created a “book machine.”  He sketches out the plot of a book, and then has a series of co-authors who flesh out the details. It is for that reason he typically publishes several books a year. He is so successful; his net worth is approximately $750 million!

Then, again, most writers do not make a living writing. Why? Because even your humble scribe (of this blog) is one of millions of authors just in the U.S. alone. All of us look to write “The Great American Novel,” of which there are hundreds in existence already.

Just take a look at this list.  Think you are the next Ernest Hemingway? My suggestion is: “Don’t quit your day job.” The odds are simply overwhelmingly against you.

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