Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Books are like the night

Among the many pleasures to be found in Masha Hamilton's The Camel Bookmobile, reviewed here a couple of days ago, are the observations, generalizations and insights various characters have about books. I thought I would collect a few of them here, adding a few comments of my own.

"Books allowed her vicarious tastes of infinite variety, but they didn't supplant the need to venture out into the big and messy. In fact, just the opposite. Books convinced her that something more existed -- something intuitive, beyond reason -- and they whetted her appetite to find it."

It may be easy enough for readers to bury ourselves in our books, to find our romance and adventure there and to learn all about the world we care to know. Or, as with Fi in Hamilton's novel, our reading can send us out into that world, better equipped and more inspired than we might otherwise be.

"The books are like the night for you, aren't they" she said. "You can hide in the stories, and grow there, and come out different."

Ideally that is the case. It may depend, of course, on what it is we are reading.

"I realized right away that books could take us out of ourselves, and make us larger. Even provide us with human connections we wouldn't otherwise have."

Many people, of course, believe just the opposite. How many young introverted readers have been accused of burying themselves in their books when they should be out playing with other children? Yet books can give these same children something to talk about and more confidence to express it when they are around others. They can even help them seek out those who may share their interests and points of view.

"Books, it occurred to her now, were enduring, even immortal."

A good book, anyway, will outlive most of us.

"My girls need the bookmobile. They need the possibilities it brings."

I like that image, that a bookmobile carries not just books, but possibilities.

"As she read, she became fully human again."

I have always found something restorative about reading. At the very least, it can take one's mind off one's troubles, but perhaps any mediocre TV show can do that. Yet while I may sometimes feel guilty after watching a mediocre TV show, I don't feel that way after a mediocre book.

"But the children were all around and Mr. Abasi was calling out and motioning for her to come, and anyway, he knew now, if he hadn't known before, that there were limitations to words -- words in the air or on a page."

Ah, yes, words do have their limitations. Even the best writers must sometimes feel frustrated in their attempts to say all that they feel. How much more difficult it is for the rest of us.

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