What a Book Can Do


The young man was gaunt and exhausted—not surprising since he had not long since escaped from one of North Korea’s infamous concentration camps. In this virtual hell, whole families could be imprisoned for no reason, and every infraction usually resulted in death. A failed escape attempt meant certain execution, but this young man ran anyway inspired by—of all things—a book. Reading and re-reading a tattered copy of The Count Of Monte Cristo that someone had managed to smuggle into the camp had, he said, made him strong. It had given him the realization that he, too, could be free.

There is an ineffable power in books, a force that is hard to explain or define but in which every writer believes. Call it escapism, label it magic, suggest the power of imagination—it is all these things and more. Books can tweak destiny.

Think of Robert Louis Stevenson lying on his sick bed and dreaming, as he reads, of adventures that he will someday write. Think of Boris Pasternak’s books being smuggled back into Russia so that eager minds could absorb his thoughts and ideas, and  of Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience which so greatly influenced both Mahatma Ghandi and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Much less grand but closer to home, I remember my own young self curled up in my favorite chair. With an apple in one hand and a book in the other, I feasted on words and ideas and possibilities as the summer days ticked by. Surely, those books have colored the way I write and think through all these long years.

We all remember special books, don’t we? My dear friend Tina certainly did. When she was a child, Tina once told me, she read Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days and fell in love with the possibilities of travel. As a little girl, she said, she would pray that she might visit all the countries of the world. She followed that dream, journeying to places I could only dream of and recounting adventures that alternately filled me with wonder and terror. Widowed in her 60s, she spent two years in the Peace Corps and then recommenced her travels. I still treasure the post card Tina sent me from Tierra del Fuego—and the joy with which she opened her heart to the world.

Perhaps it is truly a form of magic that those of us who write and those of us who read books share a bond not only of imagination but of possibility. For each book that comes into our hands has the power to entertain or enlighten and inspire, or, sometimes, to change the course of our lives.

And of this a tired but triumphant young man from North Korea is living proof.

Lines written long past

Come alive and speak to us

We need but listen.


“Peaceful Lake”


About Maureen C. Wartski

I’m Maureen Wartski, writer, artist, wife, mother, grandmother; you can see that I have many of the bases covered. I was born in Ashiya, Japan, a (then) small town which lay cradled between sea and mountains. In the evenings, we would walk along the road that ran past Osaka Bay, and a great moon would rise out of the water to turn the world to silver. I’m told that my first words were, “Big moon!” All my life I have felt the tug to write something, draw something, put together something with fabric, string and color, and the urge to create has grown through the years. I suppose, then, that it’s a natural thing that this blog be full of the things that so many of you enjoy doing…drawing, making something with fabric, and writing. Yuri's Brush with Magic, my newest book for middle schoolers follows the adventures of a brother and sister, the magic of words, and the incredible magic of the natural world. I'd love to hear from you! You can send me a note at: maureen@wartski.org/ My blog is here: https://maureenwartski.wordpress.com/ Or friend me on Facebook!

7 responses »

  1. Great books transcend time and space. I realized how much books shaped me when I took the ICL course. We were required to write an autobiography, and mine pretty much revolved around the books I read, as a child, and later an adult. I could keep adding to that bio …

  2. Hooray for books! What would we be without them? When I open a book written by Dumas or Dickens or Victor Hugo, they are alive again. Maybe one day many years from now a child will read one of OUR books and bring us to life once more?

  3. How true are all of your comments. Reading, for a child of immigrant, uneducated parents, was both a marvelous journey of escape from a mundane environment but also a path of learning which introduced previously unimagined worlds of possibility. Thanks for reminding us, Maureen, of both the value of reading books and the memories evoked by the experience.

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