Books and the Soul

book chapter six

 

The funny thing about books

Is how they let you explore

The mind of the author

See things through carefully tinted lenses

Breathe in the yellow pages; you are home

 

As a child, my afternoons were preoccupied with the copious weight of thick hardcover books, weighed down not by kilograms and the fabled silverfish that swam in the corridors of their yellowed pages, but by the mass of knowledge; narrated by an adult voice that was about to be offloaded onto my thin shoulders.

As I held the book in my hands, I was briefly Atlas1 – bearer of the weight of the Earth, for so vast were the plains I could venture; so deep were the oceans of meaning, so high were the pointed peaks I could achieve.

I didn’t know it then.

My first love, in non-fiction, were the National Geographic2 magazines that lay beneath the glass roof of our coffee table. From the red-ridged, sandy undertones of the Grand Canyon to the star-specked, limitless vacuum of space, the sleek, matte cover of the paperbacks compelled me. Opening them to leaf through thin pages only served to raise more questions than to answer. My mind couldn’t comprehend it.

Was this truly the world I lived in?

Born and raised in a concrete jungle as far as the eye could see and the mind could imagine, my outstretched palms connected with warm, sun-battered public infrastructure and the cool, grimy steel of lift buttons, not the splintered wooden fences and cold, packed snow. I breathed the morning smog and the tell-tale scent of bleach, not the overwhelming fragrance of a blooming field of lavender or the decay of lush undergrowth.

Yet as I sat knelt at my bedroom window, I was transported worlds away, eyes straining past bedtime, transfixed at every word that rolled off the page, bringing me one step closer to living it as reality. I had to find more.

I devoured all the magazines at that coffee table – where it all began. I read my textbooks too. Then, I ran out of books. The next logical step was the public library. I still recall the trepidation of excitement as the familiar, canary yellow stairwell came into view; I took every step carefully and with consideration, as if a misplaced thought would send me hurtling down the steep, cold steps to the basement – the children’s section.

In hindsight, that was exactly how it felt. Head-first, down the rabbit hole, and only the Lord knows what I would find at the end of the tunnel.

I discovered the magical worlds of Harry Potter, the adventures of Nancy Drew, and lived in the English countryside with Enid Blyton. One book lead to another, and soon every four books in a shelf, I would have had read or browsed one. Before I knew it, I had amassed a treasure trove, a recluse, a place solely my own; where small children like myself were heard not only seen, outsmarted ill-intentioned adults, and traversed dirt paths with little more than street smarts and handy skills. I aspired to be like them.

Some months ago, I realized I was the heroine of my own story.

The setting has been set, the world has been laid bare for you to explore; the rest is for you to decide. Every book starts out with blank pages. Every good story has had a turning point that set the gears in motion for the author – that turned dreams and experiences from a fleeting encounter to a noteworthy tale which captures audiences all over the world. And in that one moment, every reader is that storm-weathered protagonist, backed up against a wall, at a crossroads in a land and time most of them will never set in foot in nor hear about again.

Isn’t it funny? How with every book we pick up, we live remotely through the minds of the author in that circumstance, how every shared book read exchanges untold secrets and musings of the mind one cannot discuss in the homely ambience of a coffee shop? Books are strangely public yet private, as if your innermost feelings are in the little trinket that is a not-so-durable paperback; so unassuming, so cold, so… full of promise.

I know how I would like to live the rest of my story. Do you? ❄

 


1 Atlas was a Titan in Greek Mythology condemned to hold up Gaia (the Earth) for eternity after losing the war against Zeus, the King of Gods.

2 The National Geographic is a leading American magazine in science, cartography and exploration.

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