I picked up a book that promises to make my morning reading ritual an absolute delight. I admit I’ve only read the introduction but in those few pages Robert B. Shwartz has captured my imagination and my love for books so thoroughly that I know I will greedily devour the pages of For the Love of Books: 115 Celebrated Writers on the Book They Love Most. I believe his book falls under the Gee-I-wish-I’d-done-that category. Cast your eyes on this:
“Bookstores were of course my weakness and ultimately my way back. As solace from an otherwise law-benumbed life (He had just graduated from law school.) I was soothed by the symmetry of aisles and sections; mesmerized by the vast compression of facts, ideas, lives, epochs, travels, and regions of the heart. Books of imperishable charm, of bracing or painful insights, endless realignments of twenty-six letters–all contained in one impossibly small and dense place, a paradoxical mix of tranquility and sheer explosive power–as if a bookstore or library can be said to breach some law of physics or create a new one all its own, like a nuclear bomb with good intentions. Reading for me had became fun again but no mere parlor game. I would read, as readers do, to tame the unfamiliar or see the familiar through new and enlightened prisms; to see how different, or eerily familiar, another person’s interior life could be from my own.”
And there there was this:
“Writing, after all, seemed to me the most important thing one could do crawling between heaven and earth for a lifetime, even if I could not say why. Even if, having read the entire set of Paris Review interviews, I could still not really say what writers did or how they did it. Or how their words came together or pulled apart or crumbled in their hands in the course of infinite reshaping.”
Working in a bookstore, living in a home brimming with books, and being a natural library slug, I confess I have felt that humming power that emanates from bookish environments. Books are the repositories of minds at work and if you listen carefully you might hear them call your name. The tactile expression of writers having written words that “crumbled in their hands” resonated as I recalled scenes and paragraphs disintegrating before I barely had time to read them through. Stories come with weight and depth. They are felt.
They are real.