While trying to reorganize my bookcase the other day, I chanced upon a very old volume of Tennyson’s poems. I’d almost forgotten I had it. The book fell open to “Ulysses,” a poem that my uncle had liked to read out loud, and… wait… a sepia photograph of my father smiled up at me.
I smiled back at the glint of mischief in my father’s eyes, the sparkling hint that life, though difficult at times, was also full of fun. Even when he was old and failing, my father never lost that quality of joy, and now, here he was reminding me of all that he had been. I held the thought of his smile close and remembered the sound of my uncle’s voice reading from the poem: “…To follow knowledge like a sinking star/Beyond the utmost bounds of human thought.” When I carefully replaced the book—with its memories and precious bookmark—I was still smiling.
I have always loved books. When I was too small to read, I used to take down the heavy old volumes of my uncle’s collection—the collected Shakespeare, Les Miserables, the Idylls of the King, Ivanhoe, and open them, running my fingers down the pages that were yellowed and spotted with age. When I was of reading age, I would find a spot which was sunny and quiet and curl up with two or three books which would carry me to worlds beyond worlds. Mind you, not only the words but the books themselves held magic. The weight of books, the crisp feel of their pages, even the scent of them hinted at adventure. Add an apple and a handful of cookies, and I was in heaven.
These days, many people prefer electronic books because of their portability and ease of use. Kindle, they tell me, is a preferable traveling companion to the five or six pocket books I choose to lug around when I’m on the move. My friends shake their heads when I say that I want to take those books. They pronounce me a relic of another age, and of course they are right. A book can’t hold a candle to a kindle which can be read in bed and which, at a flick of a finger, can produce a hundred books to audition. And yet…
And yet! Anachronism or not, I vote for books for, look, a visit to my book case is an experience! First of all, I can never find what I came looking for, so this necessitates a goodly amount of time muttering and squinting and poring over books that are arranged helter skelter, the Tolkiens cuddling up to Adams’ Watership Down and Kipling’s Kim rubbing shoulders with the Ranger’s Apprentice series which my grandson and I love. There are serious books and funny novels and romances and poetry, the glorious and the mundane lined up and awaiting my pleasure. And, oh, what comfort it is to pull out Llewelyn’s How Green Is My Valley after a long hiatus, or re-read passages that my father and I read together from David Copperfield.
Books are time machines, conservators of memories. “Sure,” I can hear you say, “but you can read an e-book and get the same memories, can’t you?” Ah, but can you open a kindle and re-discover that wonderful card your friend sent you when you were exiled with the flu? Or the valentine your grand daughter made for you when she was three? Or a love letter or… in one memorable instance… the twenty dollar bill that I forgot I’d left in Moby Dick?
And this, too— no kindle yet made can offer me something as priceless as the memory of my young father’s smile.
Reading with grandchild,
Listening for that other voice
Loved so long ago.