– Frank Zappa
When I look on my bookshelf or on my Kindle, I discover many books that have given me pleasure or informed me over the years. The topics range from detective stories to stories of poverty, science fiction to novels, from classics to new style books, self-help or philosophy, all of which have their importance. I noticed that when I was working and spent a lot of time driving, the best way to read books was to have them on audible, and I went through quite a number of those too. The problem with electronically stored books is that it isn’t so easy to go over them with a finger and go to a marked page, but the advantage is that they don’t take up space and they don’t gather dust.
What I do discover is that with Kindle, I tend to buy more than I am able to read, and when I then go through the list, I am shamed into realising that they are still awaiting my attention. At least there is the “sample” option with Kindle that allows me to read into a book before buying the whole book. Physical books on the bookshelf seem to get more attention, and there are hardly any books on my shelf that I haven’t read. There are, however, many that I would like to go back to. I did have a habit of buying old books when in England, where second-hand bookshops are all over the country. Unfortunately, some of them have attracted the damp rather quickly and formed mildew, which was the end of them.
I also have the advantage of being able to buy books in German, which are as equally satisfying as books in English. I have enjoyed several authors in German, not least Heinrich Böll, one of Germany’s foremost post-World War II writers, who was labelled by some ‘Gewissen der Nation’ (conscience of the nation). However, there are numerous German speaking authors that I prefer to read in the original, not least Heinrich Heine and Hermann Hesse. Siddharta was a clear favourite if only for the style of writing that had a strange tendency to drive the reader on through the story and come to a realisation of the truth that the main figure has grasped.
But, as Alan Watts is said to have said, “Just as money is not real consumable wealth, books are not life!” You don’t need to look far for signs of that, and a good sign of a bookworm is someone sitting on a bench on a wonderful day with their eyes glued to a book. That seems to me to be epitome of a book lover, and it seems to illustrate a problem that we have. Books should point to life, enrich it and enhance it, not just be time killers, filling in the boredom. There are many books on the market that seem to have a similar plot, just different characters, albeit similar types. They are written in a style that drives the story on, getting the reader in a fever, hurrying to reach the end. These books are not the books that leave a lasting memory.
I remember reading Lord of the Rings and aching to move on as Tolkien described in meticulous detail the landscape through which the heroes were moving, but it was important to him that we take in the fullness of life. This became very important when Peter Jackson was planning to film the books. He chose his homeland, New Zealand, for the closest possible equivalence to the books, and I think the films did credit to the books in that regard. However, there were the purists that were unhappy about the films, because they were not “exactly” like the books. That is another example where the word should give way to the spirit of the story.
The use of language is limited, which is why expression of human experience is manifold, and artforms of all kinds exist and expressive methods such as music, folklore and fable aren’t surprising. In fact, there are studies that indicate that these methods of expression have flowed into each other since the beginning of civilization. The sources that stem from so long ago have grown organically, encompassing the experience of human beings, and living as narratives. Yes, these stories live, and cannot be dissected, but have to be experienced to affect us. If we can’t go along with a story, it’s dead to us.
We need stories and have done since awareness emerged in individuals long ago, often depending on their surroundings allowing them to step aside, and their ability to be receptive to the ideas that formed in their minds. Of course, the world was a different experience then, the dangers were ever present, and yet there were people who looked up at the sky and were full of awe. It all began with a very modest understanding in an individual, and as soon as such perceptions were made know to a group, stories were told around campfires, which over time became ever more complex and sophisticated. But it always relied on single persons delving into a growing field of knowledge, and equally the reaction of individuals receiving this insight. If such insights had remained a secluded perception, mankind wouldn’t have progressed, and we wouldn’t have the stories we have today.
Therefore, books are important, as long as they don’t take us away from what life is showing us in the world. And yes, there seems to be little time for so many worthwhile books, so I think I’ll just pick up the next book in the pile. Happy reading!