The importance of books
A book is the only place in which you can examine a fragile thought without breaking it, or explore an explosive idea without fear it will go off in your face. It is one of the few havens remaining where a man’s mind can get both provocation and privacy – Edward P. Morgan
I thought I’d write about the importance of books after watching a Neil Gaiman talk, that he did for book expo, on why fiction is dangerous. Gaiman says fiction is dangerous because it lets you look into other peoples’ heads, and shows you that the world doesn’t have to be the way it is. He says great inventors of the modern age (from Google, Apple &c) read science fiction and it did exactly that, showed them world could be different.
Seeing that the world doesn’t have to be the way it is, of course isn’t solely the preserve of SF writers and readers. It extends to Historical Fiction, Romance, Crime, and Erotica and every other branch and/or genre of fiction you can come up with. How the world can be seen differently varies from reader to reader, we’ll read the same books and we’ll see our new world in a different way.
Books are the vessel that lets you, as Gaiman puts it, see into the mind of other people. They are words, they are pages, they are trees, they are ink (and yes, they can also and increasingly are, pixels on a little rectangular screen) but most importantly they are record. What is printed, remains and will never be changed, they are to degrees, tattoos of culture. While a book may be reissued, an interview or reading group discussion questions added (or in some cases an author’s preferred text version is issued) the original book, much like the covered up tattoo, remains.
The book is the clarified thoughts of the author, written down for all to read and for all to see, for in most cases, much longer than the generation of now and the generations that will come. Whether they become increasingly relevant (Orwell’s 1984 has been warning us for decades and is as relevant as ever in the wake of PRISM), or they are sustained views of humanity that are never inaccurate in their thoughts and observations (Dovoestky’s Crime and Punishment), or they are much more contemporary and reflect how we treat each other now (Green’s The Fault In Our Stars). These ideas, visions of the world that we may not have thought of on our own, are sealed and kept in the pages of the book.
Charles W. Eliot was quoted as saying, “books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.” Books, for both readers and writers are exactly that, they are our constant companions. And one of their many perfections is wether you’re tired and looking to unwind or searching eagerly for knowledge and understanding, there is a book to quench your desire.
They nourish our souls and while showing us a world as it could be, they teach of the world as it is. When it comes to empathy, books are perhaps the greatest teachers, nothing else will give you the attention, the patience and also the insight into the world of someone who could live down your street, catch the same train as you, or live a world away fighting a war, or pursuing a love interest. Books are companions, and in that, they shelter us from the darkness of ourselves and wont judge us if our tears wet their pages.
There is escapism in books. They become our quiet lives and our refuge, they won’t beep when you’re tagged on facebook or nag you when you get a text. They won’t play loud disorientating nosies and they won’t care if you miss your stop. In a world over run with information and nagging devices, books remain one of the few things that are constant. You can read a page and come back to it in a year, it will still be there. It won’t have changed and it will be ready for you to pick up where you left off. They provide an anchor in a world where it’s common to scream over the internet at people that disagree, and an anchor when you can all but see the bottom of your ocean. When you’re in a book, you’re in a world that is not your own, that for a few minutes, for a few hours, nothing is relevant and nothing matters outside of the characters and their trials and tribulations.
Books save lives, they grow love, they teach us how to love, and educate us about countries and cultures that seem worlds away. Books, bring us together, they tear us apart and they do it, impartially. Books remind us, we are not alone.