The importance of words

My father is dyslexic and didn't graduate high school. I am an avid reader with two degrees in the social sciences. The irony is not lost on me. In fact, my obsession with reading and my love of school was fueled partly by my father's encouragement and partly by my desire to understand the world - a world that I had no idea how to navigate.

Paris, 2002. I'm sitting in a cafe with my boyfriend. I'm excited and trying to express how important words are to me - how poetry and listening to the sound of words is like eating a meal or drinking red wine. He looks at me and laughs.

Poetry is a waste of time, he says, with no practical use whatsoever in the real world.

I am shocked and don't know how to respond. I look down into my coffee cup. I feel crushed. And because I am young, insecure, from a small town, female, you name it, I doubt what I say.

Many times growing up, I was accused of trying to escape my life by burying my head in books. I was told, in not so many words, by various people that, it was impractical, elitist, reclusive and anti-social. What I have failed to articulate until now is that books have catapulted me into my life, rather than allowed me to escape it. Books have opened my world, not narrowed it.

When I look back to moments like that time in Paris, I feel a huge amount of grief for ever having doubted my love of words - and myself. And I think about my father, who is sharper than a lot of people with college degrees, yet still struggles with birthday cards and text messages. And every time I go home to visit, I listen to him read the same poems by Hafiz and Hazrat Inayat Khan over and over again because he is so moved by them.

How important are words?

Portraits of people reading by Steve McCurry