Ode to Books

Be warned: I wrote no poetry. The only way this will even possibly meet the dictionary definition of an ode is if you put these words to the melody of your favorite song as you read. Now you know.

Last Sunday afternoon, I (on the coattails of my husband, who will be slaving away as I pass delightfully silent hours) left the children in my parents’ hands and headed to Chicago for the week. On Saturday night, a friend asked if I was ready to go. Um, no. She pressed. “What does not being ready look like for you?” Reality weighed heavy until I remembered that my books were packed.

I started packing the first of what became two bags of reading and writing material two weeks before our departure. Each item was chosen with more care than the clothes which I hurriedly tossed into my suitcase on Sunday afternoon moments before our departure. That, my friends, is saying something.

Webster’s definition of a book is an anemic expression of its essential nature (which is the definition of a defintion): a set of written, printed, or blank sheets bound together into a volume; a long written or printed literary composition. Technically, this is correct, but just as the scientific description of a flower –the seed-bearing part of a plant, consisting of reproductive organs that are typically surrounded by brightly colored corolla and a green calyx– fails to bring to mind spring’s flowers in the garden or an arrangement on my counter, this definition does not bring life to the word book.

A book goes beyond its form and even beyond its words, to the reading life, which William Nicholson summed up well in this line written for C.S. Lewis’ character in Shadowlands: . We read to know that we are not alone. Now that is a robust expression of the essential nature of a book.

From my earliest memory, there have been books. From Mom, it was nursery rhymes, especially There Was a Little Girl and Bobby Shaftoe; from Dad, a very dramatic rendition of Horton Hatches the Egg and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe; and from Grandma, who was a librarian, it was The Bobbsey Twins books and Heidi. When I started devouring books on my own, Baby Island and Ann of Green Gables were favorites to be read again and again. A pastor’s wife from my youth introduced me to The Secret Garden and A Little Princess, establishing my appetite for classics.

This week I am in the city rather than the woods and reading rather than hiking. Technically, I am alone, yet I find I am not. I am in the company of books, surrounded by ideas distilled and dispensed from the pens of poets and thinkers, persons from the past, and the great characters of fiction whose foibles hit painfully close to home. They cast influence over my thoughts and perspective and even my state of mind. They are friends. They regularly, gently, do me kindness by helping me, making me, get outside of myself and my world and I owe them thanks.

You know you’ve read a good book when you turn the last page and feel a little as if you have lost a friend. ~ Paul Sweeney

What are you reading these days? Is it friend material?

One thought on “Ode to Books

  1. Pingback: For This December: On Being Stretched | Along This Road

Comments are closed.