Expressway: Love of life fueled by the magic of books

Pagano Cropped

Greenport High School graduating senior Briana Pagano says she need only crack open a book to be transported thousands of miles away. Pages are her passport. Photo Credit: Angelina Pagano

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Has society traded in books for Facebook? Will we go down in history as the generation that revered Bieber over Bradbury, Snooki over Shakespeare, Drake over Dickens?

I am a senior at Greenport High School, ready to graduate tomorrow. As editor-in-chief of my school newspaper, I distributed a survey on reading to all students.

In response to the question, "Do you read recreationally?" one student answered, "Why would I?"

This left me outraged and -- for once in my life -- at a loss for words.

I find the most some students are willing to read is an Instagram caption, and far too many are more familiar with Twitter's 140 characters than literature's infinite ones.

As a preschooler in Queens, I devoured the shelves of Barnes & Noble in Bayside while other kids scampered around Toys "R" Us. Some go weak in the knees at the smell of chocolate lava cake, but the scent of a new book has always been my favorite aroma.

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My family later moved to East Marion, and in kindergarten at Oysterponds Elementary School in Orient, I had the magical title of "classroom reader." As I read books to my classmates at lunchtime, stories, like pixie dust, enabled me to soar.

Reading has enhanced my imagination, perception, intellect and curiosity. Without books, "2+2 = 5" would be a mere calculation error instead of a chilling Orwellian warning, and "Hogwarts" would conjure up images of pigs with skin conditions.

Stephen King once said, "Books are uniquely portable magic." As a book's spine opens, so does the mind. After emerging from another's shoes via a novel, I can declare that I have been changed irrevocably. Delving into the lives of others has helped me appreciate what I have in my own life.

Books infuse my days with creativity and sunshine. In grade school, if handed a stick, I'd argue that it was truly my magic wand -- I was Hermione Granger.

Through literature, I have witnessed societies crumbling down, tragedies ripping nations apart, children losing their parents, and parents losing their children.

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While perusing Elie Wiesel's Holocaust novel, "Night," I may find myself shrouded in an impenetrable darkness by monsters masquerading as humans, but with the mere flip of a page, I am rocketed back to reality -- safe and free, but more alert, empathetic, and grateful than ever before.

Through literature, I live a thousand lives. On a Monday, I can be crowned victor of "The Hunger Games." At midweek, I can attend a party at Gatsby's (quite casual, Old Sport). And on Friday I can defeat Lord Voldemort -- expelliarmus!


Although I might be physically confined to the ZIP code 11939, I merely need to crack open a book to be transported thousands of miles away. Dubai or Denver, Boston or Beijing, Salamanca or San Francisco -- pages are my passport, and I am a world traveller with a serious case of wanderlust.

The poet Joseph Brodsky once said, "There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them."

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Reader Briana Pagano lives in East Marion.

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