It’s safe, I assume, to confess this to you. I am guessing you are one, too. A book addict. A person whose stacks of books are ever-leaning and always growing and perpetually threatening to become furniture (night stands, end tables, book shelves, minus the shelves). A person whose library holds are maxed, who feels the hushed reverence of a library as something religious, who has certain snippy, rigid rules about reading. (You know the ones. Don’t You Dare Interrupt These Last Pages, and, Lose My Place At Your Own Peril.) You can get a little worked up discussing the rightness or wrongness of a cover or an ending or the shocking disrespect of the film version (How DARE they!) of a beloved book. You get a little high at the smell of new pages. Admit it.
The people closest to me know that book love is a major driving force in my life; I am a reader before I am a writer. I sometimes try to understand why this is my designated passion. Why I not only make my living as a writer but spend my free time reading. Reading, and collecting antiquarian books, and hunting and gathering in the quiet safety of libraries and bookstores. Reading is good for my writing, I tell myself. Essential. But that’s just the rationalization for all the hours spent indulging my habit. The truth is, my heart actually quickens when I step through the library doors. The truth is, I feel a little (a lot) overcome when I think of the power the written word has, those little black marks on paper, those quiet, humble alphabet letters strung together in images and ideas that roar and rage and tread so gently on the heart that they bring tears.
A book is possibility, held in your hands. Inside it are the biggest things and the smallest, the world open and all yours and spread out before you as you sit right there propped against your very own pillows, and the tiniest blade of grass described so that you actually see it as if for the first time. You can smell it. It’s just little black marks on paper, but you can smell that grass. Books are there, too, offering understanding, compassion, someone-else-feels-this, here’s the proof. They offer that one poetic image, that perfect word, that description of something you have always felt but never knew there were words for. Books can be a friend at 3 a.m. They can be a needed diversion, traveling companions, respectful teachers. They can make you laugh out loud and see things differently and certainly they insist that you hone your empathy through the living-not-living of a thousand experiences. How can you not become more empathetic when you ride the bus or sit in bed or lay pool side with characters so different from you, but so similarly human? Books connect and reveal. They tell the truth. They can change your life, as they have mine. They can define it, as they have mine.
Still, like with any love, there are the things you can explain and the things you can’t. There is the list of reasons for that love, sure, but also just feeling - pure, true feeling. The glee and greed and slow, delicious decisions in a book store. The solid comfort of the stack beside your bed. The disappointment/satisfaction/sadness when a cover is finally shut. That longing for just a little more. There is the respect for an author’s careful craft. The sense of being both spoken to and heard that comes after reading a lovely passage.
A book brings all of those things, as both you and I know. We kindred book lovers, I am sure, speak the same language. But there is another thing, too. A deep gratitude that this is my confession: I am a book addict, and I am richer for it.