At the mere sight
“Many people, myself among them, feel better at the mere sight of a book.”
― Jane Smiley
I was quite a few years into adulthood before I realized that the mere presence of books was a comfort to me, even if I didn’t reach out and take one from the shelf. This seemed a bit illogical at first. I wondered whether it had to do with my early memories of my mother, a frugal woman with little money to spare in my preschool years, who nonetheless bought me a Little Golden Book on each trip to the grocery store. Perhaps I equate books with love, I thought.
But that’s only part of the equation. I have to factor in the human presence that I find in books; when I pick one up, I know I will be encountering at least one other person, and often many, who will dull the edge of loneliness I sometimes feel even among crowds. The voice of a book is almost invariably more personal and direct than a lot of what passes for conversation in casual gatherings.
And of course, there’s the matter of distraction from the woes of my immediate surroundings. No matter what is troubling me, I know that a book will take me away for however long a time I choose to spend with it. It may open my eyes to things I hadn’t noticed before, or my mind to ideas I’d never encountered. It may introduce me to worlds so delightfully similar to my own that I feel an instant sense of belonging, or so astoundingly different that I am stunned by the novelty.
Books are more than books. They are promises of discovery, consolation, excitement or enchantment. They are, contrary to the stereotype of the solitary and introverted bookworm, one of the surest ways we have of getting outside ourselves and into a realm where we realize that we are not the center of the universe.
What to you see when you see a book? How do you feel when you enter a roomful of them?
One year ago today: