January 22, 2010

there is something about a book

365:5, originally uploaded by lynda*naranjo.
I’ve had a love affair with books since I first learned to read.

I remember spending rainy recesses in grade school, hidden in the corner of the library on the floor with a stack of books. Most of them were about heroes. I read about Greek Gods and the Titans in Greek Mythology, the legends and lore of Nordic Gods and Goddesses, Fairy Tales and stories about Saints and Superheroes. My friends would escape the rain on school days by playing tetherball and four square in the gym but I loved the quiet sanctuary of the library.

I think the books you read form who you are and who you become. Almost everyone has a book they remember clearly from their childhood and still love, and often adults find a book, THE book, that has such meaning for them that it changes their lives and sometimes changes them as a person. My favorite novel when I was a kid, aside from the stacks of library books I poured through at recess, was Harriet the Spy. I totally got her. She was a little dorky, something of a tom boy and created her own mini-adventures in the middle of her suburban life by spying on people. It suited me perfectly. I read and re-read Harriet the Spy and wore the same tennis shoes, ate the same tomato sandwiches and drank the same egg creams that she relished. I carried a notebook with me everywhere and made notes about what I thought about my parents, their friends, our neighbors, my teachers and the kids in school. I still make mental notes about people, I just don’t use a notebook… it would be far too obvious (and probably rude) 

As an adult, it's hard to put a finger on THE book that has made the biggest difference in my thinking and life.  It's hard to choose.

I love the smell of a book, the sacred quiet of a library and the feel of a heavy book in my hands. With the new online writing community, the Kindle and electronic access to any sort of writing at any given moment, I sometimes think I’m old fashioned and out of date in terms of my passion for a solid, material version of the written word. I want to hold a book. I want to turn the pages and not be tempted at the end of every paragraph to surf the net for more information or click on a link that the author has so thoughtfully included that will whisk me into a new direction. When I read, I want it to be different than when I watch TV and sometimes online reading leads to the ADD mentality of rushing into a new piece of information before fully digesting the idea of a sentence or the beauty of the words that a writer has so meticulously strung together.

Last night the hubs and I went to see The Book of Eli. The plot in a nutshell was that the world had suffered an apocalyptic war and civilization basically melted away by the effects of blazing sun and war. Almost all of the books that were not destroyed were burned by the survivors and the information that had been stored electronically was (of course) unavailable. The main character however, had in his possession a bible. The only one left on the planet. He protected it because it was so much more than paper and words bound in leather. It was ideas, inspiration, words that could heal the human soul just by reading them or listening to them. The words were a source of power and hope.

I will never own a Kindle. I’ll be old fashioned and nerdy and treasure real and solid books for the rest of my life. Powell’s would never be the same if it were simply walls and shelves filled with computer screens, I would miss so much the treasure hunt and brushing my hands along the backs of so many books, using my all of my senses to pick out the perfect book that will become my constant companion for the next week or so.

I used to watch a homeless man that stayed overnight every night in the exact same alcove in NW Portland. The stoop was small, just enough room for his sleeping bag with a bare light bulb that kept it well lit all night. He arrived at the alcove like clockwork in the evening at 8:00 PM to situate his belongings on the cement. He had a sleeping bag that he stored in an orange knapsack and every time I saw him from across the street as I walked home from work to my apartment, he was propped up with the knapsack behind his head, reading a book. I called him The Reader. I always wondered if he bought his books or found them or if he borrowed them from the library. I thought that perhaps, as bad as I might imagine a life on the streets and out in the cold would be, if you could at least have books, you could escape. You could live someone else’s life, feel things, see new places and find adventure through books no matter where or who you were.

I ended up moving away from downtown NW a few years ago but I always made a point to drive past The Reader whenever I was in NW. He’s gone now. I wished I’d stopped for a minute to take him a cup of coffee and a sandwich and ask him what he was reading.

"Tell me what you read and I'll tell you who you are"        ~Fran├žois Mauriac

What book has made you into who you are?


  1. Wow, Heidi -- I don't know your Reader, but I see him so clearly, and I'm sad to know that he's no longer there. Maybe he was just there, somehow, to inspire you, at the time. Maybe not. But I'm so captivated by your words in describing him -- nestled so perfectly with his book & knapsack in his lightbulb-lit stoop -- that I miss him too.

    I've never given much thought to the books that have made me who I am. As a kid, books & I never got along too well...and it figures, since I now know that I've always suffered from at least a mild form of dyslexia -- and by today's standards, could easily have been a poster child for ADHD (thought they just called me hyperactive, and I think mom was just told to control my sugar intake...). At any rate, I wasn't the reader you seem to have been, and that was one of the very few things in my life that I've always regretted.

    Oh, books were present, but not too many. The earliest book I recall was my absolute favorite picture book called Keeko, by Charles Thorson (insert link here...) -- about an curious young squaw who sets off on his own great adventure, unaware of the horrendous danger he gets himself into. Keeko was my childhood hero, and I loved hearing my mom read that book to me over and over again.

    Beside Keeko, I was infatuated, for a time at least, with the Peter Rabbit books -- and I wish I could apologize to all the other Beethoven Elementary School students for being the kid who ALWAYS had these books checked out from the library (and they were always returned late, and renewed again). Yes, I liked the little size, the pictures. But again, here was bright-eyed & curious little Peter, unaware of the dangers he put himself in as he'd set off on a new adventure.

    Oh yeah -- and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

    I guess I've been caught -- until this very moment, at age 41 & at 4:29am on a Tuesday morning, I never put two & two together. For most of my life, I've saught out exciting & new adventures, often with little or no regard to the cost or consequences -- and it's not much different now. I think I've always equated this to my being a Saggitarian, but now I wonder...maybe it was Keeko, Peter, Charlie who inspired me, rather than some astrological stranger, half man, half beast, shooting a bow and arrow. I dunno -- maybe it's both.

    Now I wanna go back and read all those books and see if it's me in those pages afterall

  2. I LOVE what you wrote here b, and I KNOW if you went back and re-read what meant a lot to you when you were young you would catch glimpses of yourself... you might see patterns that are even today, still with you.
    Books, poetry, and good writing resonate within us, I think.