Damn. Six pages in.
I don’t usually blog about personal matters but…
Books have brought me to tears before. I’m kind of a sap that way. Usually though this happens at the end of a novel, when I’ve become so attached to the characters that when the time comes for something, or someone, to be sacrificed in order to lend the heroes’ eventual triumph the proper degree of drama and pathos; or, rarely, in very personal non-fiction accounts such as Didion’s “A Year of Magical Thinking” where the language is so beautiful and the event (the death of a loved one) so close to our own hearts that sympathetic heart-wrenches are unavoidable.
But while reading a factual report of an event? Never happened before. And I’ve certainly never teared up six pages in to a book.
This is the culprit: Every Book Its Reader by Nicholas A. Basbanes. The subtitle is, fittingly enough “The Power of the Printed Word to Stir the World.” By all means click the image to peruse the first few pages of the book… Amazon’s preview covers the entirety of the section which had me sniffling, since it didn’t take that friggin’ long. (Go on, I’ll be here when you get back. Still sniffling probably.)
[All done? Join me after the cut.]
In essence, all it took was one line, delivered by someone who really, truly meant it.
“Have you known book-hunger and loneliness?”
Less than ten words, but the sentence permeated my skin and ran through my veins, dense with remembered emotion.
Book-hunger and loneliness. Oh yes.
I’m an only child, and when I was young there weren’t a lot of children my age. There was no commercially available Internet and the Famicom arrived a bit late in the day. Reading comics, while engaging, seemed too much to me like walking in to the middle of a movie (a common practice in those days), with all the referenced previous history of the cast of characters that I was not privy to and had no means to access in the Dark Age before Google and Wikipedia.
But books… Ah, books.
I did not start my reading (as opposed to being read-to) habit with short stories, now with what we would now call Young Adult books. I started with a novel, a full bore secondary world Epic Fantasy (the Guardians of the Flame series by Joel Rosenberg, as I’ve mentioned before). I devoured it, then the Belagariad (and every other Eddings book I could find), then any Science Fiction or Fantasy series I could get my hands on. I ignored the stand-alones, they were simply not enough. I needed to immerse myself in these worlds, these adventures, craved them like an addict. I remember wandering Pasay Road in a daze after finding out that the only National Bookstore branch within walking distance from my house was closed–and after being told by my Mother that yes it was closed, that everything was in fact closed on New Year’s Day. How was I supposed to know that? I’d never needed a book on New Year’s Day before! (Why else, after all, would I have cause to leave the house?)
All this is not to say that a young lad or lass can not or should not have other interests. But, damnit, books matter. Books. Matter. And when I say books, I don’t just mean the Good Book, or text books, but Frodo and Harry and Ender and Garion, and yes, Bella, and even Thomas bloody Covenant… Stories. Matter. Stories matter because no matter how many friends a child has, he will never experience the inner life of another person except through a story. There is something essential to the development of a child, I think, in being exposes to the subjectivity of another, to being made to realize that he or she is not alone in the inner conflicts, digressions, insecurities and triumphs experienced by an embodied soul. It is this broadening of horizons that allows a child to feel that, even with his mind locked in flesh and his flesh bound by space, he or she is not alone.
Today I celebrate eight glorious years of companionship (not marriage) with my beautiful lady. Yet I remember vividly how it feels to be alone. It is why the Book Blockade made me quiver with anger; it is why I’m starting a digital publishing company; it is why I write and will never stop writing, not ever.
Book-hunger and loneliness.
Now if you’ll all excuse me I’ve got a book to finish…