OK, hold on. I know I’ve started to lose some of you at the title of this post, but hear me out because it’s not as bad as you think.
Books are sacred things. As a culture in the US, I think some people have started to lose the idea of being quiet in libraries. Still, some people do it. I’d be willing to bet those same people are still quiet in churches and museums. They are the people who understand that books deserve reverence. They are parts of people’s souls on pages and they are what others have chosen to put out in the world. There’s a great quote by Roald Dahl in Matilda when he’s discussing the power of books in her life. If you don’t know the story, and you should, all you need to know right now is that she was being raised by absent parents who could not care less about her if they tried. They weren’t abusive, per se, they just didn’t care. She discovered her local library and its contents, which became a lifeline for her. Dahl wrote,
“So Matilda’s strong young mind continued to grow, nurtured by the voices of all those authors who had sent their books out into the world like ships on the sea. These books gave Matilda a hopeful and comforting message: You are not alone.”
This quote has been a comfort to me ever since I read the book as a young person. I was not a recreational reader for many years. I was terribly shy and, because I was good at reading aloud, I was cast as the lead in multiple plays. I hated it. I was petrified to go on stage as a child and perform, though now I find it ironically peaceful. But because of this casting based on skill, I avoided reading with every fiber of my being. My best friend in elementary school was always reading. I think she read everything that Judy Blume had to offer and I’m sure she’s still a reader now. The first book that really caught my attention was called Seven Days to a Brand New Me about a girl who follows a self-help book of the same title to get the attention of a boy. This book, of all the many books in the world, is the one that made me a reader. It’s out of print now, and I cannot speak to its quality now, but I remember being called down for dinner after having read in my bedroom all day long.
I devoured that book in a day and a half and I discovered that I could laugh and cry and be transported with the characters. It started me on a binge and I read so many terrible books that I thought were wonderful. I still occasionally read terrible books which I think are wonderful, but I mostly read wonderful books. I read almost constantly. Even when I’m exhausted, I read. It is my greatest comfort. I even read cookbooks. Mastering the Art of French Cooking was a great pleasure to read, even if it did make me hungry.
Because a book is someone sharing with me, I like to share back. I underline. I highlight. I comment in the margins. Even in electronic books, I do these things. I dog-ear my pages. There are people out there who would argue that books, being sacred things, should be handled with gentleness and great care. I agree with them. I dog-ear the pages to show reverence. Here! Here is that amazing idea you had which made me think of this other amazing idea. Here’s what you said and here’s what I want to say back to you! It’s remarkable to have this conversation with a book. Sure, the book can’t answer you, really. Sometimes it does later on. Sometimes you have questions for years. Sometimes you find the answer when you reread it. But you won’t find the answers if you don’t remember the questions. So dog-ear those pages. Highlight and underline. Have conversations with your books. Talk to the pages and give yourself a way to go back to them.