An ordinary person's thoughts on the complexities of art & life ...

An ordinary person's thoughts on the complexities of life ... or just ramblings from the mind of a working Mum with far too little time to think!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

In praise of books

“I go into my library and all history rolls before me.” 
 ~ Alexander Smith

“A library of wisdom, then, is more precious than all wealth, and all things that are desirable cannot be compared to it.”
 ~ Richard de Bury

I have always been a passionate reader. I got hooked on reading very early in my life. In fact my mother tells the story that I learned to read at the tender age of two, and this very early exposure to books has definitely endeared in me a lifelong love of reading and a collection of books that is fast outgrowing our home!

Some of my happiest moments ever have been spent browsing in small second-hand book stores, wandering through the tight spaces between the book shelves dodging the flurry of dust motes each time I lift a book, and breathing in that divine smell of old leather and worn pages that have been turned by so many hands before mine.

And then the absolute joy of discovering a gem amongst the hundreds of books picked up and flipped through is something that is extraordinarily difficult to convey to someone who sees books merely as a means to get through school or university.

Old books, with their exquisitely handcrafted covers and intricate typefaces,  hold the soul of the past safe within their pages whilst also acting as a compass to navigate our way through the future. 

Through books we discover that learning is infinite, and there are whole other worlds contained in the most humble of libraries that we never even knew existed. And then there are those magnificent academic libraries where books of great significance and other records of human memory and achievement are recorded ... and then the glorious architectural wonders like the majestic Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris ... or the Library of Congress in Washington DC.

What first attracted me to my husband was his equally passionate fascination with books and pursuit of knowledge. Between the two of us we have amassed quite an impressive collection over the 20 years we have been together - many of which are reflected in the photographs taken for this blog post.  And this is not taking into consideration the hundreds of books our four children, also avid readers, have managed to collect!

Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on how you look at it, all four have also inherited our weak natures when entering a bookstore, with none able to emerge in less than a few hours ... and without purchasing half the store!

However, the sad truth about books and the sheer number available is that we can never read them all. “There is so much to learn and so little time to live,” as Baltasar Gracian wrote.

Yes, as I contemplate the vista of my own book-choked house and register the number of books on these shelves that I will probably never have the time to read, let alone re-read, there is something deeply sad about missing out on all that history and knowledge and the myriad of characters that I will never have the pleasure of getting to know.

It reminds me of a few lines from a poem by one of my favourite writers, Jorge Luis Borges:

There is a mirror that has seen me for the last time.
There is a door I have shut until the end of the world.
Among the books in my library (I have them before me)
There are some I shall never reopen.

Perhaps we need to accept our finiteness and measure our reading, not by the number of books we have yet to read, but by the way we feel after the books we have read have left us.

Besides, like the writer Jorge Luis Borges, I have many times imagined that heaven is really a magnificent library ... and there I will have all the time in eternity ... to sit and read every book ever written!


Just a few more quotes written by those more eloquent than myself on the magic of books:

"A wise man reads both books and life itself" 
~ Lin Yutang

Medicine for the Soul 
~ An inscription over the door of the library at Thebes.

"Open your imagination. Open a book" 
~ Anonymous

"The smallest bookstore still contains more ideas of worth than have been presented in the entire history of television." 
~ Andrew Ross

The oldest books are only just out to those who have not read them." 
~ Samuel Butler

"As long as I can read, nothing human is beyond my understanding, nothing is totally foreign to my nature ... there are no limits to my being ... I'm never alone." 
~ Linda Weltner