So many books, so little time.

– 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!

An Encounter

I looked out at the people gathering in the corner of the temple, some of them helping the less fortunate along, and decided to look for myself. It was crowd of about thirty to forty people around a young man who was sat with two others, and they were talking loud enough for the crowd to hear. The people looking on were mostly young adults, but there were a few older people mixed in the group, and they formed a wall against the bustling of the temple, shielding the speakers and enabling the audience to hear what they were saying. Those on the outside, like myself, were straining to hear the conversation taking place, so I tried to get closer without pushing people away.

Suddenly the conversation was over and the young man in the middle stood up and went over to a man who was clearly lame and led on a makeshift bed. The crowd followed him, and this change of direction pushed me back out to the exterior. I asked, “What is going on?” and a young woman said, “He’s healing!” I tried to improve my view of the situation but once again, the crowd moved and I saw the head of the young speaker who was walking away with his companions, followed by the crowd. Some, like myself remained to see what had happened, and found the bed empty. “Where’s he gone?” I asked, “What happened?” An elderly man said with an expression of joy in his face, “He’s healed him, and they are now going to the priests to have it confirmed.”

I remained in that corner watching the group crossing the temple grounds and asked someone standing next to me, “Who is he?” The man looked at me and shrugged his shoulders, “I don’t know, I heard he speaks like a foreigner.”

“But he must be a Jew, otherwise he has nothing to do here.”

“Ah, but he is, and there are lots of people from outside Jerusalem in the city at present. Besides, here in the outer grounds is the place for foreigners, it’s just that they have mostly been Roman guards.” That was true, they had been watching people come and go at the gates, looking out for suspicious people, although it was mostly the loud young men that were detained, which meant that people were becoming very quiet as they passed through the gates.

As the group crossed the courtyard, they began chanting something and the Jewish temple guards moved in to quieten them down. I looked towards the gate where most of the Roman guards stood, and they had started moving into the grounds with their attention focused on the group. A group of scribes, recognisable by their clothing, started hurrying across the square flaying with their arms, obviously also concerned about the commotion the group was causing, and the interest of the occupying troops. The group became quiet, and a single voice could be heard speaking, although I didn’t understand the words.

Unexpectedly, the group dispersed, and I couldn’t distinguish the young man who had attracted so much attention. Three men remained who made their way to the priests, but the speaker wasn’t among them. I hurried to catch up and asked one of the older people who had been in the crowd, “Where did he go?”

“I’m not sure, there was a tumult in the group and the guards wanted to take him to the priests, but he was gone.”

“What did he say?”

“I didn’t catch much of it, but he was talking about the Kingdom returning when we change our behaviour. He’s a prophet I suppose.”

“Prophet?” I asked, “Probably a troublemaker, like so many that have caused the Romans to increase their presence in the Holy City.”

“He spoke of signs that he was doing, healing people, opening their eyes … that kind of stuff” said the man, who then walked off.

I was left amidst the normal bustling of the temple, which had returned to its normal self, and although I walked around for a while, looking out for the young man, in the end I couldn’t be sure that I would recognise him anyway. I walked out of the temple, through the gates where we were scrutinised as we passed, and looked out at the valley, and the surrounding country that I could see faintly from on top of the hill.

A man’s voice said, “You’ve been looking for me?”

I turned around and it was the young man. “Yes, but how …”

“Let us walk for a while, where do you live?” he asked. I looked at his features and realised that I wouldn’t have found him, he looked just like anyone else in the city, except for an intense look from his eyes which caught me off guard. He gestured that he was waiting for an answer.

“Um, this way,” I said, and we started walking to the house where I was staying. It was quite a walk from the temple, and I was a little taken aback by the encounter and said little. He just walked next to me, saying nothing. “What were you speaking about, when the crowd was around you?” I finally asked.

He smiled and looked at me, “You couldn’t hear me? That sometimes happens, that is why I try to go into the corners. What is your hope in these troubled times?”

I was a bit irritated at his avoiding my question, “My hope?” I searched for words, and finally said, “that the Romans leave us alone, that we are able to go about our business as usual.”

“Aha,” he said, and carried on walking, saying nothing but just smiling at the people who came our way.

We walked halfway to the house and then I asked, “but, what were you talking about that had people so interested?”

“What do you think your hope depends upon?” he asked. “Do you think they will just go away on their own?”

I felt uncomfortable because I hadn’t been prepared for the conversation and it wasn’t going as I thought it would. “What do you mean? Do you think we have to force them out?”

“What do you think?” he asked bluntly.

I stopped and looked at him suspiciously, “you are not talking about …” I quietened my voice, “… an uprising?”

He turned away and laughed and motioned that we walk on. “Do you think that the sword will bring us anything but sorrow?” he asked, “do we have nothing else to offer?”

I quietened my voice so he could barely hear me above the noise on the street, “Do you mean the Liberator?”

He raised his eyebrows and walked on, leaving me frustrated at his reaction. “Who are you anyway?” I asked, stopping in the street. He stopped and turned, looking at me dispassionately, “come to the Jordan crossing tomorrow and I’ll tell you. You’ll find me,” he said. He then turned and walked off, the conversation was obviously over, and I stepped aside to let a cart pass and when I looked back at where he had stood, he was gone.