Mr. Standfast

"Nothing taken for granted; everything received with gratitude; everything passed on with grace." G. K. Chesterton

June 28, 2005

Memories of Books

Books have always seemed like good friends to me. I suppose there are some unfortunate people who simply would not understand that statement. But I have been conversing with books all my life, and that's something I seem to have in common with many Bloggers. The truth is, we are word people. We have been engaged, as readers, in a literary conversation all our lives. We have traveled far, and seen much; we have grown and learned, wept in sorrow or joy for people who were only characters in a book, after all. It is a strange thing, but true. We are better, rounder, more whole, as a result.

When I was five my parents were divorced and my mother took us, me and my brother and sister, to Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. We lived on Union Street at first, in a small apartment. My mother instructed my big brother, who was nine, to take me to the library. It was one of the turning-points of my life.

The library was a longish walk from our apartment, or so it seemed to me then. Brent held my hand as we crossed one street after another. He was so big, at nine years old, and I felt guarded with him, and safe. The Osterhout Free Library had a high peaked ceiling like a church. The light poured in through great windows. The very hush of the place conveyed to me a sense of gravity. I was awed. And all this was for the sake of the books which lined the countless shelves that towered over my head. Here, certainly, books were honored and treated with care, and people walked softly, and so, I must have decided then, would I.

And I remember long summer mornings, and sitting on the back porch reading Stevenson and Verne and Dickens as a teenager. Dickens simply swept me off my feet. The books were huge and musty old tomes. Just to turn the pages seemed a delicious gift. Perhaps it was bright summer outside, but in the pages of the book it was a dank London evening, and that's where I was, swept along with Oliver or Pip in those fearful human currents.

I don't seem to read many novels anymore. Perhaps someday I will go back to Dickens, rediscover the old haunts along the Thames waterfront where Sikes plotted evil, but fallen Nancy plotted good, and where old Fagin both cursed and blessed the lost and orphaned Oliver.

I will be taking Marilynne Robinson's Gilead with me to my mother's house in a few days, and I'll be sure to sit on that back porch, the same one as all those years ago, and I'll taste of that delicious pleasure again of journeying into a story on a long summer morning. Give thanks, you who have loved books, for God has given you story, and song, and images, and by means of the gifted teller these things will ramify in memory for years to come.

5 Comments:

Blogger HeyJules said...

I couldn't agree with you more. From those first books of Dr. Seuss and books like "Charlotte's Web"; from Shakespeare to Stephen King,the books we read shape our imaginations, which in turn, shape our lives.

8:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Bob,
Sure enjoyed this entry, what a wonderful way you have with words yourself....in just a few short moments of reading i was allowed to view your life as a lad......i could see your older brother through your eyes.....the library through your eyes...the value of a good novel through your eyes.....thanks for the glimpses into your life...indeed your heart on this sunny summer day...
tommy c

10:46 AM  
Blogger Gaddabout said...

I love books, but I feel misled by my public school English teachers. They told me books would make me smarter. They do in a way, but not in a direct transmission kind of way, which is what they implied. Books help you ask better questions which leads to better critical thinking. They can also handicap a person who doesn't apply and test what they read!

3:54 PM  
Blogger Kim said...

What a great post. You have me going back in my mind to lazy, cold winter saturday afternoons when I would sit and read all afternoon.

Definitely go back to Dickens again! I "introduced" my 16yo daughter to him and she just loved Great Expectations. She "had" to read The Great Gatsby for school, but she came down all teary-eyed at the ending. At our weekly trip to the library yesterday, she was hunting down more from F. Scott Fitzgerald. I remember once when she was 8 years old she said: "Mom, with me and books, it's kind of like a lion who needs to eat meat."

Enjoy your trip and your book, and be sure to post a review when you return.

4:31 PM  
Blogger Callmeteem said...

Thanks for that. I share your love for books they have long been friends and wise counsellors.

11:54 AM  

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