On books as medicine

‘In each century since the beginning of the world wonderful things have been discovered. In the last century more amazing things were found out than in any century before. In this new century hundreds of things still more astounding will be brought to light. At first people refuse to believe that a strange new thing can be done, then they begin to hope it can be done, then they see it can be done—then it is done and all the world wonders why it was not done centuries ago. One of the new things people began to find out in the last century was that thoughts—just mere thoughts—are as powerful as electric batteries—as good for one as sunlight is, or as bad for one as poison. To let a sad thought or a bad one get into your mind is as dangerous as letting a scarlet fever germ get into your body. If you let it stay there after it has got in you may never get over it as long as you live.’

 Frances Hodgson Burnett, Chapter 27, The Secret Garden


Today I went to a 100th birthday party. It was the 100th birthday of ‘Auntie Molly’, although exactly how I am related to her I am yet to determine. One of her grandparents married one of my Pa’s grandparents, I think, but I’m not quite sure. She received a letter from the Queen, congratulating her on reaching such a ripe old age, and from the Prime Minister of Australia. Many of her photographs, letters and journals were proudly displayed around the room for all her relatives to see.

I asked Auntie Molly what were her favourite books to read as a child, but she couldn’t remember the names of any of them (that was, she told me, a very long time ago, and she couldn’t be expected to remember). But she does remember that she gave them all away during the war, because books were short at that time, and she never managed to get them all back. But she ‘was a reader’, she told me, she loved reading. Now, unfortunately, she is mostly blind, so she can’t read anymore. To me, this seems like the worst thing in the world.

I came home and read the last chapter of ‘The Secret Garden’ which begins with the passage that appears above. These wonderful words got me thinking. If Auntie Molly was a reader, she must have read thousands, millions, millions of millions of words in her lifetime, and these millions of words would have sparked thousands of thoughts. Reading wonderful, beautiful things make you think wonderful, beautiful thoughts, doesn’t it? So, according to Frances Hodgson Burnett’s theory – that mere thoughts are powerful as sunlight, or poison – did all the books that Auntie Molly read, and all the marvelous thoughts that she thought because of all these books – did they help her live longer?

Can you prolong your life by reading amazing books?

It’s a nice thought.


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