In Praise of Readers
Published November 13, 2012
Elan Barnehama

Since you visit these blog pages, I’d be willing to bet the house that you consciously and purposefully devote some of your time and energy and imagination and focus to reading books.  I’ll double down and venture that many of those books are fiction.  As a reader myself, I applaud your passion for the make believe.  As a novelist, I thank you for being a reader.  It’s a cool cool thing you do.  And, should I be fortunate to have you as a reader of my novel Finding Bluefield , well then, cooler still.  And humbly appreciated.

The average stay on a web page is about a minute; most stays are far shorter.  So, if you’re still reading this, it means you are above average.  But I already knew that about you.  Because you read fiction.  That makes you an expert at sustaining attention and thought for long periods of time.  In case you think I’m about to mock the web and our distracted wired life, I’m not.  I’m a fan of the web, even if it’s a tad needy.  It’s good for books and good for readers of books.  It brought us together; why would I berate it.

Recently, researchers using fMRI’s  (functional magnetic resonance imaging), scanned the brains while their subjects read fiction.  Their data suggests that close reading of literature requires and improves the function of a complex and coordinated set of brain activities. Doesn’t this data support what we already knew?  What seemed obvious?  Reading literature is good for the brain.  Scientists create meaning from data.  Readers of fiction do that as well.

Humans are story-tellers by nature and by necessity. As soon as we’re born we are told stories and as soon as we can speak we start to tell stories to anyone who will listen.  In those early years, just about every story is a fiction.  We need to tell stories to place ourselves in the world.  We listen to stories to understand how others place themselves in the world.  We just plain and simple like stories.  They’re fun and they make us feel stuff.  All kinds of stuff.

There’s no limit to how we can tell a story.  And we tell them through song, film, fashion, painting, sculpture, weaving, architecture, cooking, and of especially writing. I’m biased, but I think that when we read a book, when we spend time with the written word, we are connected to one another.  When we read, we are never alone.

So, dear reader, I thank you for that connection and wish you many happy readings.
Front and center: Making the work of service men and women more visible
By ELAN BARNEHAMAFriday, November 9, 2012

At 10 a.m. today , malls and retail stores across the United States will open their doors to eager shoppers seeking Veterans Day discounts offered to honor those who have served in our nation’s military branches.

On the same morning, at precisely 11 a.m., in a ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, a wreath will be placed on the Tomb of the Unknowns to honor those same veterans.

Originally observed to commemorate the end of World War I and the signing of the Armistice on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, Veterans Day evolved to honor all our military veterans. The expansion of the holiday was made necessary because World War I, the-war-to-end-all-wars, wasn’t. Given the technological advances of modern weapons, it is almost certain that the next war-to-end-all-wars, will most likely end everything else, too.

So, until we either end wars, or wars end us, the U.S. will continue to have a large and powerful military. Yet, for all its size and power and cost, it has become far too isolated from most communities. Our wars have become invisible, fought by a tiny percentage of our population, who come from a shrinking demographic, and who are stationed at fewer bases in fewer areas of our nation. We are not safer, nor are our elected leaders less likely to send our military into wars of choice, just because we don’t see them.

What happens to the men and women in uniform is all of our responsibility. They go where they are asked (told really), sent by leaders we elect and funded by dollars we contribute. If we are wary of their missions, if we oppose their drain on our budget, then we must not avoid them.

We should have bases everywhere, see soldiers regularly, interact with military families daily. High school students and their families should not have the option to opt out of receiving mail from our nation’s military branches. It’s simply too easy for too many of us to ignore the reality of our military.

We should be having an open and ongoing debate about the role of our military and not the drone of sound-bites we were subjected to during the election season — a drone expected to continue as Congress debates (ignores) the fiscal cliff.

The very troubling number of suicides among those who have served, the loss of family members, the shameful statistic of homeless veterans, the ongoing medical challenges, the toll that deployment takes on military families — we all share the responsibility to address these issues. Parades for Veterans Day and Memorial Day, sales at the mall, and anti-war protests should not be the only times we think about our military.

Accepting the fact that we have a military is not an endorsement of war, it is an endorsement of reality. And it’s also the only way to avoid the reckless use of our military. And isn’t that the best way to honor the men and women who serve?

Elan Barnehama is a writer who lives in Leeds.
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