For some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth. What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die.
~Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
I’ve spent the evening packing up books in preparation for my move to North Carolina. It’s going to take a while, because everywhere I turn, in every room, there are a lot of books. Although I’ve let go of a fair number of books in recent years, and I’ve been trying to patronize my local library recently instead of buying books, I’m a little amazed to realize how many books I still have.
Books are spiritual and mental comfort food for me; I’ve rarely been in a place where I didn’t have a book close at hand. In fact, the only exceptions I can think of are two ten-day meditation retreats I attended in Massachusetts back in the mid-90s. (To ensure that we maintained our inward focus, we weren’t allowed to have reading materials.) Reading has always been a big part of my life, and I usually have a couple of books going at any given time.
When I’m stuck emotionally or wrestling with a problem, I often end up at a bookstore, wandering the aisles and waiting for the right book to jump off the shelf—the one that will have the answer I’m seeking or at least point me in the right direction to figure it out on my own. (No books have literally jumped off the shelf, of course, though a few of them have been “accidentally” knocked to the floor right at my feet.) More than once I’ve found myself drawn to a particular set of shelves where the book I needed sat waiting…or my eye has immediately zeroed in on it after barely crossing the threshold…or (without my asking) the bookstore employee will just happen to suggest the exact book I need to read.
This has happened so many times that I’ve stopped thinking of it as strange or even uncanny. It’s guidance, pure and simple. It’s evidence of the energy that flows in and through and between us all, connecting us with events and people and places and ideas that we’re meant to encounter. On a vibrational level, I send out a call for help, so to speak, and the Universe/God/the Divine—knowing that books are among my favorite methods of finding answers—conspires to help me find the perfect one.
These days, I often find the book I need on my own bookshelves. By now, I’ve built a small collection of books by authors whose works have had meaning for me at various times in my life. From time to time, I’ll feel drawn to re-read a book that I read many years ago, and the re-reading will inevitably spark insights that didn’t happen the first time around and will help me with whatever issue I’m dealing with. Sometimes I’ll buy a book and, for one reason or another, never get around to reading it until months or even years later. And yet, when I do finally pick it up, the timing is just right.
Books have taken me to faraway places, both real and imaginary, and they’ve guided me into deep places inside myself. They’ve taught me things I wanted to learn, and they’ve reminded me what I already know. They’ve introduced me to people that I want to be like, and they’ve shown me others who are like me. I’ve discovered and developed new interests through reading, and I’ve had unexpected leaps of logic and aha moments that were sparked by an author’s simple (or brilliant) turn of phrase.
I’m one of those people who still resists the idea of e-books, although I can certainly see the practicality of them when traveling. After all, I could save a lot of space in my suitcase (not to mention my aching back) if I could “pack” the several books I invariably take with me into a Kindle that takes up virtually no space and weighs almost nothing. At the end of the day, though, there’s nothing like a holding a real book in my hands, and there’s nothing like the smell of a bookstore or library. For me, it’s as homey and nostalgia-inducing as the smell of freshly baked cookies.
There used to be a wonderfully shabby used bookstore in Durham, North Carolina (I hope it’s still there) called “Books Do Furnish A Room.” While “furnish” might not be the word I would choose, I do like the image it calls up…the idea that books somehow complete a room, that a room doesn’t really feel “finished” without books.
Right now, I’m still looking for a house in North Carolina, so I don’t yet know the exact place where I’m going to land. It’s possible that I’ll have to downsize a little when it comes to furniture, but you can rest assured that all of my books will be going with me. They’re old friends, after all, and, just like old friends, it’s reassuring simply to have them close by, to know they’re there when I need them. I’m pretty sure I always will.