Saturday, October 17, 2009

There is no frigate like a book

I got in a very interesting discussion last week-end with some wicked smart folks about the demise of the book as we know it. The conversation started because our local library may lose it's accreditation and with that, patrons will no longer be able to borrow books from a wonderful service called This service allows you to type in the title of a book, request it, and then it appears magically at your local library. One of my friends travels a lot and has the Kindle. He is a big fan of this electronic book and feels that our attachment to libraries is now about nostalgia and that with town and state budgets so tight, we are going to have to make different choices about how to use our resources.

Books have been my transitional objects my entire life. They are stuffed into every corner of my house and provide a clear picture of the evolution of my being. The smell of them, the feel of them, the heft of them....Here is the excavation:

1. Old Black Witch: This is a rollicking tale about a single mom and her son who have hit on hard times. They buy an old run-down house and decide to make it a pancake/tea house. All is well except an evil little witch lives in the attic. The tale clearly is about loving your crazy relatives, and how their craziness can save you in the end. Cut to 20 years down the road. I want to share this tale with my little ones and my sister has the family copy. She is in Texas and doesn't feel the need to give it up. I go online and find out that the book is now considered racist and is no longer published. Used copies are going for about 50 dollars. I buy it and add the updated caveat: the witch could have been dressed in any color, it was not the color black that made the witch evil, it was the lack of compassion in her upbringing, etc, etc.

2. Little Women: We all loved Jo, we all cried when Beth died, and later, we realized that the true love story was the sisters with each other. One of my latest CMARS books was on Bronson Alcott and he was such a transcendentalist that he transcended making a living for his family. That job fell to Louisa.

3. Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville. I was a political science major in college and wanted to get my PhD in social welfare policy at the Heller Institute. I aspire to be a policy wonk. He was a traveling Frenchmen who wrote this classic in the mid 1800's. He wrote about equality and how fluid our society was compared to the rigid class distinctions in Europe. How do we manage it? Access to learning and to books. I believe passionately that books are connected to our liberties and anyone can check out a book at the library. Not everyone has access to the Internet, to computers, and to electronic books.

4. Dictionary of Women's Sacred Symbols. I paint Good Karma Boxes. I paint them for people getting married, having babies, retiring, and leaving my girls' groups. This dog-eared book has taught me that some simple symbols, like the cross, have many meanings and connections. One thousand years before Christianity, the cross represented the intersection between masculine and feminine. The Chinese used that symbol to represent the intersection of the sky and the earth. Books have taught me to dig deeper and listen to other perspectives.
Yes, books are about nostalgia. Which books would you list as representative of your eras? Still, they are so much more than the written word. They connect us to one another. My books will be my greatest gift to my children. I think Emily Dickinson should have the last word:
There is no frigate like a book
to take us lands away,
Nor any coursers like a page
of prancing poetry.

This traverse may the
poorest take
Without oppress of toll
How frugal is the chariot
That bears a human


  1. I too am an unmitigated bibliophile, with piles of towering books in every room of my house to prove it. To lose books would a be a loss I can hardly fathom. I have used a Kindle and its just not the same. Long live CMARS!

  2. I'd love to hear what books mark other people's decades. It's a thought provoking question. I'll take a stab at it:
    ages 1-10 - Harriet the Spy (didn't you cry when Ol' Golly left)? or any Nancy Drew. I wanted to be the titian haired girl detective.
    11-20 - The Bell Jar - it changed my life. I couldn't believe you could actually read a worthwhile book in school.
    20-30 - Villette - this began my love affair with the Victorians and Charlotte Bronte in particular.
    30 on - not sure. I have many favorites I read and reread: A Christmas Carol, The Lovely Bones, anything by Austen, Dickens, the Brontes or Shakespeare, too many escapist detective novels to list.
    My life would be a much poorer and sadder place without all the dear friends I have met in books.

  3. Ok, here's mine {for you and for TL}:

    The Taste of Blackberries: my first experience with the mature topic of death as read aloud by my fourth grade teacher Mrs. Rice. I cried quietly at my desk, and was forever changed with the notion that children, not just old people, could die, and could die suddenly and unexpectedly.

    The classics: 1984, Animal Farm, Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird, Romeo and Juliet, the Great Gatsby. I guess my high school English classes were loaded with all the classic literature. I should make time to reread them--see if they're just as good as I remember.

    Among Schoolchildren: I was an education major in college and this book contained my hopes and aspirations as a future teacher, and my fears and reservations of choosing this career.

    My thirties? This is tough. Love an Elizabeth Berg for a quick touching story; was on a Jodi Picoult kick for a brief time; enjoyed Water for Elephants, and The Other Boelyn Girl. These days, I like a book to suck me in, hold me captive, make me flip pages late into the night, and leave me mourning that it has come to an end.