Sunday, May 26, 2013

Books

 Even now, in its approximately ten percent of what was before moving here to Sola Street, your library contains numerous books written well before your birth.  Some of its authors lived and wrote hundreds of years before your appearance.  Other authors, you are pleased to note, were born well after you; some of these, you are even more pleased to note, were for a time students of yours.

The two books of your present collection you made special efforts to bring are two volumes you've had most of your life.  The oldest, The Rand McNally Atlas of the World,  its spine wobbly and tattered, was a Christmas gift to you, barely ten years old.  Time has made of it a near work of fiction.  Places it describes no longer exist.  Descriptions no longer apply.  Beyond its sentimental value as yet another tangible gift from your sister, this book drew you to it for hours of inspection and imagination, wondering if you would ever visit some of the places described or photographed.

Not long before being given this book, you'd traveled by auto across the United States, following the old Route 66 to its terminus, beyond which lay a sense of dread even though you'd heard your parents talking of Back East in terms of places, friends, and family.  For the longest time--as long as you were there--Back East was an amalgam of things gone wrong.  With the exception of a year living in Providence, Rhode Island, you needed to return to what you considered true home before you could reconnect in meaningful ways to Back East and what you might experience there or--for that matter--anywhere.

The second oldest book was a life-changing event.  It, too, has parted company with its spine, its signatures held intact with the gauze and Kraft paper backing used for case binding in the days when it was manufactured.  This book has twenty-four pages of front matter and 1178 of text.  The great probability is that its price was less than the Atlas.  Like the Atlas, it held you and your imagination in rapt fascination, indicating places you knew you'd have to visit, things you'd have to do, in many ways the person you'd try to become.

The book is The Favorite Works of Mark Twain.  Thanks to the bounties of used book stores, you came close to having a complete set of all Twain's works, which you returned to over the years, your familiarity with the man growing with each revisit and with each connection or gleaning achieved with each revisiting.  Two of these yet remain with you, The Innocents Abroad and Roughing It.

Thoughts of these books remind you of the incredible amount of factual and emotional information you got first from books, taking in the data and feelings as though they were absolutes, items to be learned if you were to be educated.  Somewhere along the way, you began to see the way the spine on this logic had suffered as much as the spines on The Atlas and The Favorite Works, indeed any works.

Not to say you are smart or wise, but the difference between smart and wise is the difference between having a thing in memory and feeling its entirety to the point where it becomes muscle memory.  Information without attached feelings of your own about them is the equivalent of the clutter in your room, "things" strewn about in ways that speak against useful retrieval.

The Atlas set you off on a journey of investigations of real and imaginary locales.  The Favorite Works set you to looking at ways individuals both real and imagined could serve as larger examples of human conditions about you, eager, mischievous, and energetic as puppies and kittens, wishing to explore the worlds beyond them.

Books and reading are worthy companions, but they are no substitute for the adventures you must have in order to make the information something of your own.

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