Books are humanity in print. – Barbara W. Tuchman
Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested. – Francis Bacon
The books that the world calls immoral are the books that show the world’s own shame. – Oscar Wilde
I understood. I need to write. Live here, in my words, and in my head. I need to go inside, that’s all. No big, complicated, difficult thing. I just need to go in reverse. – Augusten Burroughs
It is a truth that books are humanity and make us different humans. I can’t remember when I couldn’t read, though I suppose there must have been a time when the runes on the page seems mysterious to me. But more than any person, they have been the primary influence on my life.
Growing up in a smallish city and with not much, I knew two things: I loved to read, and I was going to university. These were absolute facts and it never occurred to me that I wouldn’t be able to go to university. Of course, I look back now (and 4 or 5 degrees later) and wonder at the sheer will of that statement. We didn’t have the money. Most of my friends and family hadn’t gone further than high school and never would. I had no access to that “greater world”, though I remember thinking that some of my teachers were absolutely larger than life – smarter, richer, more cosmopolitan, and I so wanted to be like that.
And it was those very teachers who gave me my ticket: a libary card. Full kudos to my parents who understood grace and class without ever having the pedigree to back them up. We grew up with a sense of register, and of conduct, and a healthy curiosity. But the books! The books gave me people of all kinds, and geographies, and beautiful houses, and sad houses, and happy ones. Images, metephors, wit, tragedy, ways of dealing with the world. That’s why when I meet people in the world, regardless of their station or nature, I have a place where I can understand them (or at least get a good conversation going).
Books gave me the walk and the talk and the brain. Scholarships gave me the means.
Where the Wild Things Are, Encyclopedia Brown, Nancy Drew – not much one thinks, but early on I knew that one could use logic to deal with any situation, and that adults aren’t smarter, just older. And that woman would always be cast as the victim, but that they don’t have to accept it.
Jane Eyre. I can still see myself sitting on the floor in our living room against the chimney wall where I could feel the heat on my back. Oh, how I identified with the young Jane, and the terror she felt at the hands of her family, and the passions that she hid because she wanted to be good. She was 10. I was 9. Bertha? I *so* got her. I envisioned her sexuality and knew that this character was an expression of suppression, of a contained woman. Yeah. In grade 4. My teacher at the time, Mr Piccarillo, asked me intelligent questions and then quietly phoned home to make sure my parents knew what I was reading.
Like a note struck strong, my own understanding of my sexuality would resonate with these themes from time to time. Contained passion. Good girls and bad. Caretakers and lovers. Wives and mistresses. I have found my own path, but my inner voice sometimes has the ring of a 19th Century girl about it. I still read Jane Eyre every few years.
The Little Drummer Girl. Spy novel – yes. But really the narrative of a woman who chooses (or is manipulated) to enter the grey areas of the world. To see love and beauty in terrorism. To see hatred and prejudice in the “good guys”, and to love another person who cannot leave the grey in the end. This book and many others like it gave me the worldliness I so wanted to have. Gave me voice and understanding in politics. And made geopolitical a word about humanity.
And I’m still a sucker for conviction.
The Idea of Order at Key West. A poem.
Like a body wholly body, fluttering
Its empty sleeves; and yet its mimic motion
Made constant cry, caused constantly a cry…
Wallace Stevens. TS Eliot. Bronwen Wallace. Leonard Cohen. Al Purdy. STC. These people rocked my world. Changed my ears and my eyes. Sent me to metaphor and made me see things I’d otherwise not see. Made me want to be a different, better, less solipsistic person.
Fall On Your Knees Embodied love. Wrong love. Love as hurt and transgression and fear. Shame and humanity and poetry and much more. A book you can see.
And, oh! The first time I read Don DeLillo. Or my beloved Tom Robbins. Or Oscar Wilde. Or George Eliot. The rest of the Brontes. Timothy Findley. Shyam Selvaderai. Michael Ondaatje. Joy. Wit. Piercing judgement. Sex. Gender. Passion. Sublimation. Countries. Cities. Trangression. Understanding. Patience. Nobility. Grace. And all in the nook of my choosing.
Words that are in the fabric of me.