Man’s Best Friend, Outside of a Dog


“Outside of a dog,” wrote Groucho Marx, “a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read.”

Groucho is also the one who said, “I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.”

When you think about it—and reading and thinking have always gone together—reading is well nigh miraculous.

Pick any amazing historical figure you care to mention. If they wrote anything, or if anything worthwhile has been written about them, you can get deeply inside their heads, think their thoughts, view the world through their eyes, listen to them deal with questions, handle criticism, overcome challenges. You can get on board with them as they live their lives—even if they quit breathing centuries ago.

No writer has influenced me more than C. S. Lewis. He died just as I was learning to read, but reading is why his death is no barrier at all. And I agree with him: “You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.”

You can travel anywhere, do anything, be anyone, through the pages of a good book.

Just this morning, I spent a little time trying not to get caught as I wormed my way through tunnels dug by the Vietcong during the Vietnam War. I didn’t stay there long.

On this same morning I tendered my regrets to an Episcopal bishop who’d asked that I serve as interim rector at a picturesque though presently troubled little mountain church.

Not that long ago, I spent over forty days afloat in the Pacific after my bomber was shot down in World War II.

A week or so ago, I was in the room listening to Clementine Churchill telling Winston, soon after victory in Europe, that the lost election costing him his post as Prime Minister might be a blessing in disguise. I heard him growl back, “If it is a blessing, it is very effectively disguised.”

What books do for us is utterly amazing. Got questions? Really big ones? Read a book!

Does God exist? Why does he allow pain to exist? What is his will? Is Jesus his Son?

Read the Bible, the best of books, and let the Author use it to shape your faith. Read it even if you’re not a believer. Why? Because no one in a world shaped like ours can afford the incredible ignorance of not reading the book behind so much of the shaping.

If you’re a believer, why would you not read the words, in the Bible and elsewhere, of the most amazing believers this world has ever known, and learn from them?

Weary of this world at times? Who isn’t? So who in their right mind would stay in it all the time? Take a trip to Narnia or Middle Earth or even Mitford or Harmony or Lake Wobegon or . . . absolutely anywhere.

You can go wherever you want to go. Just open a book.

It’s no accident that God’s Son is called by the Apostle John “the Word.” And no wonder the Apostle Paul, even in prison, asked Timothy: When you come, bring my books.


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Copyright 2015 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

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