"Book Lovers Never Go to Bed Alone"
In celebration of National Book Lovers' Day
In celebration of National Book Lovers' Day
“Book Lovers Never Go to Bed Alone”
In celebration of National Book Lovers Day
That title is quoted from a pillow on the bed of a room I once stayed in at the Library Hotel in New York.
With so much other media to indulge in, why do I still surround myself in pounds of books? It’s remarkable, considering I was not a great reader to begin with. When my first-grade teacher, Mrs. Grywitz1, wrote C_T on the chalkboard, my classmates eagerly wrote CAT on their papers. Meanwhile, I made long scribbles between the blue lines on my paper, like barbed wire atop a prison fence. Well into the school year, an ophthalmologist diagnosed me with amblyopia in my right eye, more commonly known as lazy eye. In amblyopia, which usually involves just one eye,the brain and eye don’t work well together, causing poor vision and sometimes a wandering eye. I can attest to the poor vision. As for the wandering eye, I hope my friends tell me if they ever witness my eye going AWOL.
After my diagnosis, there came battles with family over my wearing glasses daily and allowing drops into my eye nightly. I wore a patch, like a pirate’s, over my good eye for a time, to see if we could get the lethargic one to work better. It didn’t.
Today, I can see a bit from my right eye, but I’d be walking into walls if it were the only sight I had. I wear contacts, sometimes paired with readers, because prescription glasses make my eyes look like eight balls. I’m glad Mrs. Grywitz didn’t give up on me, though. Once I got my glasses, I finally stopped with the barbed wire and started to read.
Movies, television series, blogs, pictures, web pages, podcasts, video, short films, technical papers—I love it all and everything has its place in my life. But it’s in reading books where I’m most thoughtfully present, carrying everything my mind holds into this ancient decoding meditation.
If you borrow books from me, my notes jotted in the margins will drive you nuts. I’m having a conversation with the author and with myself. What I discover in books stays with me like precious collections to draw from. Earlier this year, I read Siddhartha Mukherjee’s The Song of the Cell, a wonderful nonfiction book that crushed the high school biology I slept through and guided me on to medical history and into modern cell therapies now available for blood cancers and one day, for heart disease, arthritis, and many other common and rare health problems. While the work is more profound than I could ever describe in this short space, it’s Mukherjee’s analogies that hooked me. They make the complicated accessible.
Writing of a gene editing therapy, he writes, “It can change Verbal to Herbal in the preface to volume one of Samuel Pepys’ Diary in a college library containing eighty thousand books. Every other word in every other sentence in every other book in the library is, for the most part, left alone.”
Through literature, I see the joys and sorrows of others, and come away with empathy or perspectives that would otherwise remain untapped within my own finite brain. In Joseph Roth’s novel, Rebellion, the main character, Andreas Pum, returns from World War I without a leg. A vulnerable character, Pum becomes imprisoned over a petty crime. His experience speaks of any innocent person condemned to a life of misery, and I wonder how he’ll manage. Roth explains that Pum listens to the passersby on the street from inside the prison.
“He knew the dragging gait of the old man and the stroll of the young nature lover; the skippy walk of the coltish girl and the purposeful tread of the busy mother…the difference between a walker and a hiker, a slender frame, and a heavy set one,” writes Roth. “His ear became sighted.”
Roth seemed to convey that in hours of despair, simple pleasures help us cope.
My favorite book has long been a lesser-known work by Virginia Woolf, The London Scene. The book features an essay series she wrote for the British edition of Good Housekeeping. Released in December 1931, each story within the collection delivers lyrical prose—-music to the mind. It may seem crazy, but I must know where this book is located within my home at all times. If I misplace it, I will most likely stop whatever I’m doing to find it. (I should get an AirTag for it.)
In describing ships docked in London, she writes, “They have no longer the proper perspective of sea and sky behind them, and no longer the proper space in which to stretch their limbs. They lie captive, like soaring and winged creatures who have got themselves caught by the leg and lie tethered on dry land.”
This quote came to mind in June when visiting our local waterfront and encountering the Nao Trinidad, a replica of a 1500s' Spanish ship brought in for tours. In proximity to the boardwalk and other boats, it was behemoth—-and kind of like a pterodactyl forced and pinned down.
If you've lost your thing for books and miss the pages, here's something to think about: A thought leader on the cognitive science of reading, Maryanne Wolf, explains that it takes "cognitive patience" to read deeply--and this type of attention can be built through reading twenty minutes a day. I guess it's like a mind muscle.
Why do I love books? In books, I can tap and expand my own wisdom.The experience leaves me able to make vastly more connections, and in turn, life becomes more interesting.
Happy National Book Lover's Day!
Image credit: The Library Hotel, New York City.
1. This name is likely spelled incorrectly because research into historical elementary school information is not showing my teachers’ names that far back.