First, let me dispense with the silly business that endorsements of any kind influence me to read a book. I do not stand in a library or a book store or even browse a web site looking at the book jacket or the back of the book or yes, I must say it, look at the ubiquitous ‘endorsements page’. That would mean I was reading the book based on the opinions of others. I do not.
I am drawn to a book in a curious way through the personal adventure of title that makes me stop and investigate and run my finger tip down the length of the spine to get a feel of the possible substance and immediately lift the volume from its perch to gauge the weight of it, to open it in my hands and let the fresh air hit the pages under my gaze and the ink spores waft towards my slightly wrinkled nose. I even like to read a good synopsis. But beyond that, I most emphatically regard only my own opinion when selecting a book. So if you are famous or hoping to be, I am sorry, I am not your audience. I do not feel the slightest bit deprived of the volumes of the famous, but I would feel immensely deprived of the books of the dead.
I began this rather unwise course by choosing when I was to read the books that had already been purchased for me when I was young – sometimes waiting years before I decided they were worth my time – and I continued this way with even more determination upon receiving my very first library card at the age of 9 when our town’s first bookmobile put our small elementary school on its route. From that momentous first visit, I never checked out less than the limit – large, ambitious volumes and not the modern quick reads then thought worthy for my age. I wanted our time together to last as long as possible.
I began reading books by listening to books being read. Nothing was permitted in my soul to come between myself and the reverie of the author’s words except my father’s voice, which spoke in more kinder tones then than I was to know in the general way for the rest of our lives. I suppose this fact alone added an especial incentive to my deepening relationship with books: they introduced a gentler, more sensible family and a host of kindred spirits that sustained me through many a hard year to come.
I have read books that were gifts; desert books you read after a good nutritious dinner of words has been enjoyed. Small novels for girls where another imagined life could be lived. I still go back to those books on occasion as one calls up an old friend to chat. An inward smile is renewing. And an imagined life, lived rightly, keeps one sane.
Chesterton was right when he observed that fairy tales and other adventures are best enjoyed when one grows older. They are visited as one takes a vacation to a paradise and winds up in long and dangerous adventure to get there. It trains the soul for accepting and meeting reality steadily. The general subject of books is always travel because they are all going to take you somewhere or sometime else and most especially when you need to go.
The best and brightest book I ever decided to read was the Bible. Well, I can’t say I actually decided to read it so much as it decided to read me. My motives for wanting to read it were not of the right sort – and you can decide to read a book for all the wrong reasons, I have discovered. When you do, you will most certainly never get what the author intended. And that is a great mistake. But when later I read this book for the right reasons, I discovered it has been the most trustworthy friend, teacher, mentor and yes, judge, a person could have. There is a good reason that it is called the living word.
Now if you are reading this you might stop at this point and say something like: “O, you have gone and spoiled what I was going to concede was a nice little essay with something as annoying to some of us as the Bible.” And I agree. You are absolutely right, I have. I decided it was a good word to end with.