Books are the way that the dead communicate with us.
The way that we learn lessons from those who are no longer with us, the way that humanity has built on itself, progressed, made knowledge incremental rather than something that has to be relearned, over and over.
— Neil Gaiman, Art Matters, “Why Our Future Depends on Libraries, Reading and Daydreaming”
Photo: Bull Run Regional Park, Virginia, April 8, 2019
Some of us periodically need to repeat the joy training, rehabilitate the part of us that naturally dims or gets injured by busyness, or just by too much bad news to bear. Adults rarely have the imagination or energy of children, but we do have one another, and nature, and old black-and-white movies, and the ultimate secret weapon, books. Books! To fling myself into a book, to be carried away to another world while being at my most grounded, on my butt or in my bed or favorite chair, is literally how I have survived being here at all. Someone else is doing the living for me, and all I have to do is let their stories, humor, knowledge, and images — some of which I’ll never forget — flow through me, even as I forget to turn off the car when I arrive at my destination.
Visiting the library with young children is one of life’s great joys, because nothing compares to the experience of picking a book up, holding it, looking at it, seeing the colors, smelling it, and, if you’re really small, chewing the edge of it. One of the glories of books is how many of your senses you use to experience them, including smell and the delight of discovering books by serendipity. You simply don’t have that with ebooks. I have hundreds of titles on my Kindle, but I am very unlikely to go browsing on my Kindle for something to read. That’s the magic of libraries, that possibility of discovering something you didn’t even know you were looking for.
— Neil Gaiman, quoted in This Is What a Librarian Looks Like, by Kyle Cassidy, p. 15
Women’s stories matter, the stories we write, the stories we read – the big-deal winners of literary prizes, and Harlequin romances, and documentaries, and soap operas, and PBS investigations, and Lifetime movies of the week. Women’s stories matter. They tell us who we are, they give us places to explore our problems, to try on identities and imagine happy endings. They entertain us, they divert us, they comfort us when we’re lonely or alone. Women’s stories matter. And women matter, too.
Give me a great novel or memoir, some tea, and a cozy spot to curl up in, and I’m in heaven. I love to live in another person’s thoughts; I marvel at the bonds I feel with people who come alive on the page, regardless of how different their circumstances might be from mine. I not only feel I know these people, but I also recognize more of myself. Insight, information, knowledge, inspiration, power: All that and more can come through a good book….
Books, for me, used to be a way to escape. I now consider reading a good book a sacred indulgence, a chance to be any place I choose. It is my absolute favorite way to spend time. What I know for sure is that reading opens you up. It exposes you and gives you access to anything your mind can hold. What I love most about reading: It gives you the ability to reach higher ground. And keep climbing.
I know that my life is marked by the road signs of my beloved books, each one symbolizing who I was when I read it, shaping who I have become. The uninitiated might say that I am lost in my books, but I know I am more found than lost.
The delight I derive from writing in my books is one reason I do not own an e-book reader. To me books are talismans and memento mori, yes, but they are also toys. I like to play with my books, to mark them up, to give them a lived-in look. I like to stack them up on the shelf and move them about and rearrange them according to new parameters — height, color, thickness, provenance, publisher, author’s nationality, subject matter, likelihood that I will ever read them. Then I put them back the way they were. I love to pull my books down off the shelf and read striking passages to baffled dimwits who have turned up at my house. From the moment I own a book, even before I open it to the first page, I feel that it has in some way changed my life. I treat my books the same way I treat my clothes or my shoes or my records: I use them. You cannot do any of this with a Kindle.