I spent most of last Saturday among a group of fellow writers. We had gathered at a local venue to offer our books for sale directly to readers and (we hope) fans. It’s what writers do, or should do, when they aren’t actually writing. Putting work up on the internet, contacting real bookstores and other sellers, and finding other ways to make contact with readers is all part of the world of writing and publishing. Nothing new in that; selling books is simply part of the writing process. If a book falls onto a tabletop, and nobody reads it, does it make a sound?
Writing books, selling books, go together like whatever pairing words you choose: bees and honey, coffee and cream, sand and surf . . . you choose. And then you must add one more: reading. Reading is where it all begins.
When I was very young, just learning to read I think, I was presented with a most ususal gift – a package of bookplates. Don’t know what they are? Perhaps in this new age of digital books the bookplate is on its way to obsolescence. For me, it is as much a part of acquiring a book as the book itself. It is a simple way of identifying books one owns and (almost as important) one shares by lending to others. The ones we have in our books today simply have the name of our farm and the image of a tree. The tree reminds us of our debt to wood as the prime ingredient of paper and the printed pages we treasure. That is today.
The first bookplates I had (and can still find in some books I’ve owned for a long, long time), have a drawing of a sailing ship, and the words of Emily Dickinson: "There is no frigate like a book to take us lands away." That’s as true today as it was when I was five years old. Books work both ways: they take us "lands away," but they also bring lands and lives to us.
What magic the written word holds, what knowledge and pleasure, what truth and treasure we have before our eyes, simply by opening a book, turning a page. What pleasure and knowledge we are able to ingest and digest simply by turning a piece of paper, a collection of pieces of paper, bound between a beginning and an ending. Danger is there, too, of course: what you read is not guaranteed to be true. How widely read you are determines that: nothing is all true or all false. Words are not simply a collection of letters. Words represent ideas and not all ideas are good. The only safety is in numbers: the more you read, the better you are able to find the truth, to understand the meanings, to make the right choices and decisions in life.
That frigate, that ship of thought you board when you open a book is the way you travel the universe that is life. I’m not trying to write poetry, or create great literature here, just trying to share with you the excitement, the pleasure, the learning that reading has brought to me. That, and the understanding that without words, without books, we remain where we started. To grow is to learn and to learn is to apply and to apply is to make decisions about one’s life that can take you to the best or the worst places. How you survive, what you do when you get there, is a reflection of what you have learned along the way.
Enjoy the journey.