One of my earliest favorite books was Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe. About that time, I was also reading Swiss Family Robinson by J.D. Wyss, The Mark of Zorro by Johnston McCulley, Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson and Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain. The common theme was that these volumes were all about adventures in faraway places.
My world, on the other hand, was very limited. The closest my brother and I came to actual adventure was playing in the woods behind our house. The closest we came to traveling to exotic places was going to my grandparent’s house in Mississippi. Mississippi turned out not to be much different from South Carolina!
But by reading, I was introduced to the South Seas, to England and Scotland, to Rome and Greece. Even reading about my baseball heroes took me to places about which I knew nothing—New York City, Brooklyn, Detroit, Boston, Chicago, big cities and worlds I knew nothing about.
Several years ago the theme of “Worlds I Know Nothing About…” became the theme of a three-month sabbatical. I traveled to Brussels, Belgium, Birmingham, England, Luxemburg, and even managed to fit in a train trip to Chicago to see Greg Maddux pitch for the Cubs.
My life has been spent mostly in the Southeastern US. I still live in South Carolina. But my world has expanded to include Africa and Antarctica, Mexico, Montana and Malaysia because I read. I don’t need to go there to be beguiled by any of those locations. It’s a big world and I am curious about almost every square inch of it.
When I read, I learn, even without meaning to! I discover what the world looks like in other places, what it feels like in the humid jungle, what is beautiful and what is dangerous. Then, I want to go see what I have been missing.
When I travel, I learn, even without meaning to! I discover that Belgian waffles were created for the Expo in Brussels in 1958. Why was Iona, an out-of-the-way island in the Inner Hebrides, off another island (Mull), off another island (Great Britain) considered for centuries to be a center of Christian monasticism? How could Iona, way up there and way out there, be the center of anything?
Aha! Never thought about it, but people did their serious, long-distance traveling by boat. No railroads. No superhighways. Not many un-superhighways. Travel across water was easy, by comparison. It was no accident that the great cities of the ancient world were on water: Rome, London, Alexandria, Shanghai, Athens. That’s why Iona was a Big Deal. I went there for peace, quiet and retreat, but learned something about our fascinating world as well.
So, give me books on the shelf and maps on the wall, and I can be a very happy man.