That’s a picture of my bookshelf there, in my office. One of my bookshelves anyway. Why are those stacks of paper and ink so amazing? If you know me, you know I’m nuts about books. Seriously. If it were something unhealthy people would be concerned, but in this case, it’s a good addiction. I adore books because they are colorful bundles of information.
Aside from, you know, fire and clothing and stuff, information has been the running root of civilization. Information is the force responsible for bringing us from foraging to typing. And here we can buy some at the store down the street.
Books are like little drops of water that come down to fill our societal basin. We are brimming now, and we are glad for it, but the basin grows too. Data will never outgrow us because we continue to expand; we outgrow the data and go looking for more.
Depending on your interests, you may not always see books as art. A book about how to crochet, for example, is that art? I would answer: is crochet not expression? How about that book about woodworking? In building your birdhouse you are expressing care for the creatures in your backyard. An Astronomer poring over celestial maps finds just as much meaning in his book as the poet who finds life wisdom within the lines.
Expression doesn’t need to be elaborate, figurative art. A book isn’t always full of startling prose, but by its nature it is full of words. Words teach. Words express.
I favor some books over others. Crochet, woodworking, and astronomy have their pedestals in other peoples’ lives, but it’s the fiction that gets me—the stories of people.
Fiction is Late-Middle English for ‘invented statement,’ and the statements we invent don’t mean anything unless their meaning is carried through the human experience. Novels (fictional stories) are stories about characters who live through a certain ordeal and change because of it. Stories of people help us relate to people, to feel compassion.
I read a comment recently, by a girl who worked at the makeup counter in a mall department store. She was in the midst of reading The Hunger Games and at her work counter she got this flash of being in the Capitol: women spending hundreds of dollars on makeup while homeless people wither just on the other side of the door. She walked out of her job that day. That is the power of a book
“We read books to find out who we are. What other people, real or imaginary, do and think and feel… is an essential guide to our understanding of what we ourselves are and may become.”
-Ursula K. Le Guin
When you buy a book, you support an author. You allow a writer to continue to be an expert in their field and that furthers the field in general. The fiction writer continues to create dense experiences through the minds of their characters, while the nonfiction writer continues developing homemade pasta, or acting monologues, or pushing the dialogue of video games and ethics, or the force between the economy and global resources… books are limitless.
Books are like little universes all on their own. Brandon Sanderson had to sit down and cultivate an actual world for his characters to live in, Alice Hoffman details the mystical occurrences of everyday life we may not be inclined to see, William Kent Krueger walks us through hope and loss, and Thomas Friedman, that guy, he must sit and do research all day. I don’t know how you write a book like him. You’ve gotta be really smart. That’s all.
If there is to be a change in our society, it comes through in our books. Even a change as simple as eating less meat. There’s a reason books have been burned in the past; it’s because books enlighten, encourage, and educate. Knowledge frees us and up until my lifetime, books were the #1 source of knowledge. It’s the internet now, and that’s great, but books still require an author to take care with their words while the internet can be a source of misinformation.
“Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art, the art of words.
-Ursula K. Le Guin
Often we read because we need time to escape and decompress from our daily life, but in doing so we are given just a little more fuel to go on with our day. We read so we can keep going. Learn a little then keep on so we can learn a little more.
I wrote this post in part because the why has been on my mind as I put together a speech I’ll be giving in March at Pecha Kucha. Pecha Kucha is a short, structured speech event where a few people get to stand up and talk about what they’re passionate about. I’ve been nominated to talk about books (surprise, surprise). I’ll be sharing more about that as we get closer to the date.
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Ursual K. Le Guin died earlier this month. She was a phenomenally talented author of Science Fiction and Fantasy. She understood the importance of words, of writing and reading, and she left some behind that inspire the heart.
“A writer is a person who cares what words mean, what they say, how they say it. Writers know words are their way towards truth and freedom, and so they use them with care, with thought, with fear, with delight. By using words well they strengthen their souls. Story-tellers and poets spend their lives learning that skill and art of using words well. And their words make the souls of their readers stronger, brighter, deeper.”
-Ursula K. Le Guin