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Expressway: Love of life fueled by the magic of books

Greenport High School graduating senior Briana Pagano says

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

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.

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.

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."

Reader Briana Pagano lives in East Marion.


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