This is a beautifully written, captivating post written by a brilliant friend of mine, who will remain anonymous. He never ceases to amaze me with his breadth of knowledge and unremitting curiosity. I’m so grateful, honored, and fortunate that he reached out to submit this guest post.
I sat down to read a book the other day. Yes, a real, honest to goodness real book. No phone, no notifications, no email, or texting, or buzzing or beeping, just me and the book. One of my favorite lines from grad school is that books are like time machines. The author wrote it then, felt it then, and crafted it at a fixed time and space. Now, minutes, decades or centuries later, we connect through the text. I’m here, you’re there, yet as you read this we connect through the text, building a bridge that can’t be replicated in any other medium. Despite the migration to digital, printed text has the inherent capacity to engage readers much more powerfully than its late, great digital counterpart. Sure, we can watch an old movie, but do we use our imaginations to fill in the blanks and bring it to life in a unique and memorable way? Don’t get me wrong, I am one of the most connected people I know, twittering and emailing literally every minute. But sometimes, it’s good to just sit back, smell the “book smell”, and get lost in another world.
Growing up, I could never stop reading. I would just go through every book on every shelf, and try to learn more about the big world. Outside of my little bubble were adventures, exploration, heroic feats, and a purpose, figuring out what you were meant to be doing. From the perspective of my mundane middle-class life, books had all the answers to escape into. I read it all, from the classics to pulp fiction and everything in between, hungry for more. I guess it’s inevitable that I grew up to do some writing of my own. Nothing fantastic, and most of it never to be read by another other than in my esoteric corner of academia, but out there nonetheless. Finally, I had something with my name on it, something I could look back and be proud of. True, more people read the cookbook I wrote than any of the academic work I’ve come up with, but I suppose that’s just par for the course.
But as much as I would like it to be, this post is not about me or my writing, but about the books. Once I started appreciating the agony, suffering and self-loathing that goes into writing and writing well, I took a whole different approach to bookstores. Going to the used book store around the corner was no longer about finding a book that would keep my attention, but standing in the presence of millions upon millions hours of time, of edits and rejections to finally come up with something. Not all books are created equal, that’s certainly true, and not all books have the same value, but in the end, you need to appreciate the time and effort that went into producing something. I know it’s not exactly true, but think about how many names you see in the production of a movie, the hundreds of people who contribute to the end product you’re consuming. Now look at the single author of the book you’re holding in your hand, the guy or gal who stayed up late and woke up early with one goal, keep writing, get it all down on paper.
Now I think about things a little differently. It’s not just about the stories, the imaginary places that the books can transport us in our minds. It’s also about where the books themselves have been. How many hands has that book passed through from the airport bookstore in Tokyo twenty years ago, to end up in a pile of discounted, but not forgotten, summer reads? Do us both a favor, hit the off switch, pick up a book, and head to the beach or the backyard. Adventure awaits, I’ll see you there.