Friday, February 22, 2013

On Books

I don't know what I'd do without my books. Remember the book Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury?  It was set in a dystopian future in which firemen intentionally burn any house in which a book is located, because it's against the law to possess them.  In the end, a fireman who had grown to love books. escapes the city of quick, mindless but big screen, reality based entertainment, to find a small group of book-loving refugees banded together.  Each person is assigned the memorization of one complete book -- Aristotle, Dickens, James Joyce and more -- so the books will survive until society is ready to embrace them again.

Sitting here, I thought "if that little band grows in number, would one poor soul eventually be forced to spend the rest of his days reciting the chapters of Captain Underpants and the Incredibly Naughty Cafeteria Ladies from Other Space endlessly in his head?"

I don't read a lot of popular novels, though I have a rather large collection of classic Sci-Fi.  When my grade school classmates were reading The BoxCar Children and Pippi Longstocking, I was reading the works of Ayn Rand and Robert Heinlein and a whole world beyond my quiet, hushed one at home, opened up to me. Reading is for me not just intellectual but embracive. I love the way the spine of a book feels in the crook of my fingers. The smooth, hard end boards snug on either side of the pages sewn together, their edges flush and perfect. The smell of ink, the texture of a page as my fingers gently turns it.

I tend to read a lot of non fiction, of history. I like reading about long ago. know more about my own life when I know more about the past. It's a sense of perspective; of days full of people that killed, tortured, struggled and suffered, agonizing for things that were of the utmost importance to them; working and living for reasons that may be well the same as ours. Now they've been gone some 500 years and all that is left to us is the essence and quintessence of their lives.
To me, history is more than a story, more than a book, it's the life, the heart and soul of ages long ago. It's the ultimate myth and inevitably ambiguous, but I do believe, as Lord Bolingbroke stated, "History is philosophy teaching by example and also by warning." History not read is like ammo not used, someone once said, and without reading, for myself at least, the past is silence and the future is haze.

Quantum Physicists have stated that time, as most of us think of it, is an illusion. They have postulated thatthe past,the present and the future are here, now, captured in a touch, the blink of an eye, or perhaps,simply between two pages.

Nothing for me is worse than being in the back of an airplane or at a hotel with nothing to read. When in one mountainous far off place, I had to downsize a bag as the little airplane being piloted by what I believe was a Yeti, was weight restricted and my books were left behind for materials I had to have for the mission. I almost would have given up my tools, my poncho and my hiking boots than my little collection of paperbacks, of Earth Abides and Stranger in a Strange Land and a small leather bound book of Shakespeare sonnets.

Let the weather play God with my itinerary, let the tanker bringing in supplies break down somewhere, let the post sell the last bottle of whiskey, but if I'm laid up alone in the middle of no where after I bust a move down the Himalayas and break my leg, I want a book. Curled up in strange places among a couple artifacts of family that get toted around in my suitcase, I may be lonely, but I will be be content. 

For I have a book.
Such is it tonight. I am alone, but in my head is history, the cries of warriors, rushing forth immortal beneath disported sabres and brandished flags, men rushing forward into time, propelled by gunpowder and righteousness, underneath a sky of thunder.  I have a book.  I  am caught up in battles, in loves, both forbidden and forgotten, coursing like blood as long as the words will, that immortal, fresh, abiding blood which bears respect above regret and commitment above the ease of dishonor.

My work is put aside for at least an hour or two before bed and I'll pick up that book. I'll let it transport me to somewhere far away, until a chime will toll for warriors, for battles won and those so easily lost. As my hand turns the pages, I will move among people who lived and died, or perhaps never existed at all, their shadows not of flesh of blood but of imagination, shadows as strong as finely honed steel and shadows as quiet as murmuring breath, forgotten until they were put upon paper.
Then, on the sound of that chime, perhaps a clock, perhaps something that just travels within me, the note cutting the air, as sharp, clear and quiet as a blade, I will fall off into sleep.  Outside the world continues in that illusion of change, the sky letting go of its tears, washing a burned landscape anew.

30 comments:

Bob said...

Earth Abides is a favorite of mine, also. It influenced Stephen King's The Stand.

I think you'd enjoy Paulo Coelho's masterpiece The Alchemist, Brigid.

Stephen said...

May it always be so...

Rev. Paul said...

"I have a book."

What a remarkable summing up of all that books may provide, in that expression of contentment.

We feel the same way, and have passed that love of reading to our daughters.

Chip said...

Since I was 15 I have always had a book that I am currently reading, usually 2 or 3. As soon as I end one book I immediately start another one. I have travelled around the world, fought besides Kings and villains, experienced the highest thrills and the deepest despairs, all through the books I have read. I too don't know what I would without books.

TinCan Assassin said...

"When I was your age, television was called books." Grandpa in the Princess Bride.

Pink said...

Wow...you describe how I feel about my books as well. My library is 70% history and by reading history you can see the future. It's an endless cycle.

Keads said...

Well said. I have books from my youth and still reread them. They are like old friends. I'm reading "The Admirals" right now on the Kindle. A very good read on the Naval Admiralty for the US during WWII.

john bord said...

Books have gone to the back burner. Seldom do I read for pleasure any more. It is now mostly research, particularly on local history and surrounding area.

Yet many of the books i read earlier in life were stories about slices of life, a history of daily living.

I have a couple of Norton Anthologies tucked under the seat and another I carry on occasion. Someplace in my stuff, one can usually find a book.

The I-pod, greatest lil gadget to keep my book reading company and blot the world out.

Read on ......

Mike in Wa said...

Well writ, Brigid. A book is a companion, a comfort, and most often a guide.

Safe travels.
M

Old NFO said...

Books ARE a lifeline... Same here... Nook 1 each, over 700 books loaded. Now I need a solar charger for a backup! :-)

Monkeywrangler said...

I think if I could only have one armful of books, I would not part with my Frederick Treves books. Look them up in the library via ILL Brigid...
A Tale of a Field Hospital
The Country of the Ring and the Book
The Cradle of the Deep
Hiways and Byways in Dorset
The Land that is Desolate
The Other Side of the Lantern
Holiday in Uganda
and of course, the book for which he is now best known, The Elephant Man and Other Reminiscences.

If you have trouble finding them I know one Univ. library that has most of them in its collections, or in a pinch, I might be persuaded to loan one out from my collection!

Vic303

OldAFSarge said...

I need to read nearly as much as my lungs need oxygen. I do not exaggerate by much!

MSgt B said...

Stephen Ambrose.

immagikman said...

Books are awesome, and I have hundreds many of them Hard covered and will last a long long time, most I have read at least once some more. I love the feel and smell and texture of a book, but I really encourage anyone that has to travel frequently to get a Kindle or Nook E-Reader, SPACE SAVER SUPREME when you can't take your library with you and so many things to instantly download at a relatively small price you can easily have to Libraries....one of the wonderous Books we grew up with and one that has almost any book you can imagine at your fingertips.

thedowntoearthdoctor said...

I'm an author and reader and I know what you mean!

Roscoe said...

Secret Squirrel Q Division hasn't set you up with a Kindle?

I have a second generation Kindle that stays in the bottom of whatever bag-o-junk I'm carrying. As long as I keep the wireless off and remember to stick the thing on a charger every few weeks, I have books on demand wherever a cell phone can reach -- the "3G" or "Whispernet" feature.

The only e-book I've paid for is Stephenson's "Reamde". The rest are freebie classics from Amazon, sample chapters of various other titles (very cool feature of Amazon's store), and book files I've transferred via USB from other sources.

BTW, "Reamde" is fun with lots of pages devoted to things that go 'boom'. It isn't "Cryptonomicon", Stephenson's career highpoint to date IMHO, but that one will be tough for him to top.

PPPP said...

I always had a book or two I was reading when I was young. Now, usually only one at a time, but I sometimes have 4 or 5 checked out from the library.

Right now, I only have one out, but it's a big one. 1438 pages. Les Miserables. Never read it when I was younger.

Dick said...

I have been an avid reader all my adult life and it has blessed me in many ways. I have recently purchased an eBook reader and now I'm never caught without a book (or 50). It's light and the charge lasts about 2 weeks. It ranks up there with the clicker for the car locks, microwave oven, and auto garage door opener.

Brigid said...

Bob - I'm going to go see if I can find a copy of that.

tinCan - a copy of Princess Bride is on my nightstand. I watch it at least once a year. Brigid Jr's favorite as well.

Pink - there are a lot of old books in the little book shelves that seem to adorn every room. Half Priced Books has surprised me with a number of gems that were overlooked by otehrs.

Roscoe - no kindle, it doesn't go out with me unless it can be decontaminated or burned.

I just woke up (pulled a late one). Back at it and I'll talk to you later.

Ad absurdum per aspera said...

"But I didn't go to sleep. The truth is, I've got a monkey on my back, a habit worse than marijuana though not as expensive as heroin. {...} I am a compulsive reader. Thirty-five cents' worth of Gold Medal Original will put me right to sleep. Or Perry Mason. But I'll read the ads in an old Paris-Match that has been used to wrap herring before I'll do without."

-Heinlein, _Glory Road_

I myself had my first taste around age 4* and was condemned to needing my fix more and more often -- ever stronger stuff in constantly greater amounts.


* Dear everybody on any side in the education reform debate: as some anonymous sage observed, "children who are read to, read"; and although some of the further details are important, there you have the keys to the kingdom.

Mick said...

I, too, love to read; at my peak of pleasure reading the librarians at the local joint kept a stash they'd set aside for me in my areas of interest. I re-read Atlas Shrugged every year or two to compare it to today; eerily prescient! Also Heinlein, various other sci-fi authors as well as spy novels from '60's and '70's Cold War, historical fiction. No E-book; I'm cheap, and like to hold a real book. Sooo 20th Century!

Christina LMT said...

Hear, hear! I get antsy if I don't have reading material of some sort on me. And as long as I have something to read, I'm never bored and I'm endlessly patient.

Once Free Man said...

Our taste in reading crosses like strands of a long braid. Rarely do I read fiction now unless "Sci" precedes it. (Fiction as a youngster was to digest the classics, then gave way to encyclopediae and Webster's unabridged.)
One huge advantage to technology is carrying many, many books in a small package. In deer camp, away from cell towers, my phone is useful as an e-reader. Years ago, I bought a combo tablet/reader with two screens, one color and the other e-ink, for storing electronic reading. (It can also take web pages while surfing and make PDFs for reading on the e-ink side later.) The company has long since fallen into the cobwebs of the tech dungeon and Android many versions hence, but it still faithfully serves its purpose. Most recently, my son used it to read The Hobbit, since I couldn't find my Hobbit and LOTR set from my childhood.

Brighid said...

I read alot of books on a wide range of subject matter, darn near anything I can get my eyes on... Thank goodness for used book stores, the library, and now my Kindle...

GREEBO said...

A pity about the kindle as the eyes get older the print gets smaller, hit the settings and instant large print edition.
I have several hundred on mine now, including most of disc world

zdogk9 said...

I've books I read more than fifty years ago that I still re-read. "The Nick Adams Stories", "The Old Man and the Boy", Robert Service

Cathy said...

You may want to check out the books written by fellow Montanan, John L. Moore. A rancher and a writer, he has become one of my favorites. "The Breaking of Ezra Riley" is a good one to start with.

Beth W said...

One of my lit professors once said "it's difficult for modern people to enjoy classic literature because it forces one to pause, slow down, and contemplate". So, so true. And every year when I re-read Jane Eyre, I do just that. And I love it. The classics are like the main dish at a banquet, some popular books are like good appetizers, and some are like candy.

Fred said...

My recurring fantasy is being locked in an Amazon distribution center and forced to read my way out.

Rogue Aviation said...

I love my nook, and as a guy who is pretty much an anti-technology traditionalist on most things that is saying a great deal. One thing that is does not have over books is the great smell of a book. Something about a new printed tome just appeals to me. Even used books have their own character, apart fom the printed matter inside the covers. My wife thinks that I am crazy, but I love that "book" smell quite a bit.