It’s high time I wrote something about books, I suppose.
As a child or even teenager I would have said books were my life, because they were an escape into other worlds and other lives; though I didn't always understand why, I knew fictional stories provoked me and moved me in ways that were mysterious. They taught me about the world, about the self, about relationships and meaningful things.
As a college student I would have said books were my life, because I had chosen to study them full time, to learn why they moved me in such ways, to learn the wonderful nuances of literary style and theory. Whereas before the words would overpower me in beautiful ways, like closing your eyes while the water breaks over, I could now sit with other like-minded people, sharers of a passion, and analyze how and why the author wrote such words. I could learn the heartache and poignancy of narrative and still appreciate its abstraction, or pull it apart like a science experiment and get to its inner meaning.
As a working adult I can say books are my life, because they are my field. I get up each morning and drive to a wonderful place where I can talk about books and teach young teens to appreciate them in ways they maybe haven’t before. I can spark a discussion about the object of my passion – books – and allow students to surprise themselves and each other with how powerful and heartbreaking and humorous and relevant and downright enjoyable books can be. I can feel them get the creeps from Edgar Allan Poe, or listen to them defend the dignity of Hester Prynne, or debate the ethical characteristics of Jay Gatsby, or question existence alongside Hamlet. I can see the moment – however brief – when they catch themselves emotionally resonating with a fictional character, or suddenly understanding the message an author pleads with every sentence.
Books have made up my life, and here are some of my favorite moments with them:
As a small boy, listening to my mother read me The Mitten by Jan Brett and wondering if the animals remained friends after their shared home in the mitten was destroyed.
Discovering Harry Potter at the age of eleven, and spending the next thirteen years after that that losing myself time after time in Rowling’s world – whether that be running home on a new release date to lock myself in my room and not leave until the book was finished, or reading The Prisoner of Azkaban during the 2000 Summer Olympics Opening Ceremony in Sydney (I had reached the climax in the Shrieking Shack, and kept running breathlessly in and out of the living room to watch the ceremony on TV). Although I love many books, I love none of them in the same way as Harry, for I grew up with him.
Glancing at my older brother’s illustrated edition of Lord of the Rings when I was twelve, and deciding to venture into Middle Earth.
Spending the summer of my sixteenth year escaping into Narnia.
Reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn for the first time in a hole-in-the-wall diner on the side of I-79 with a cup of bad coffee and a slice of decent apple pie.
Deliberately making myself close the cover of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell because I was afraid of finishing it too fast; I chose instead to live inside the book for several weeks to prolong the experience.
Finding myself more emotionally moved by Marilyn Robinson’s Gilead and Wendell Berry’s Jayber Crow than any film I had ever seen.
Discovering on several sunlit afternoons that C.S. Lewis was a kindred spirit of mine – a lover of the same literature, a sharer of the same humor, and the possessor of a beautiful perspective on Christianity that I still long for.
Sitting in my dorm room after finishing Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner, feeling like I was just hit by a ton of bricks, and marveling that someone could manipulate and contort language in such a way.
Reading Charles Dickens on the train to and from graduate school, and stopping every so often to people-watch.
Only picking up Cry the Beloved Country because I was slated to teach it, but finding instead that I had never read more beautiful or lyrical prose.
These moments are mere glimpses at a lifetime of years loving and pursuing books – and I hope the endeavor continues until my eyes are too old and dim to make out the letters. People often ask me for suggested books, or what might be my favorite book? But you know already that this is an impossible question, that to give an answer would be the same as selecting one beloved child over others, or selecting a single friend to join me at the end of the world. It can’t be done.
Books are my life. And I wouldn't have it any other way.