Here Come the People in Grey
Cousins From Another Planet

Loving Books

Dillard_1 "The written word is weak.  Many people prefer life to it.  Life gets your blood going, and it smells good.  Writing is mere writing, literature is mere.  It appeals only to the subtlest senses -- the imagination's vision, and the imagination's hearing -- and the moral sense, and the intellect.  This writing that you do, that so thrills you, that so rocks and exhilarates you, as if you were dancing next to the band, is barely audible to anyone else.  The reader's ear must adjust down from loud life to the subtle, imaginary sounds of the written word.  An ordinary reader picking up the book can't yet hear a thing; it will take half an hour to pick up the writing's modulations, its ups and downs and louds and softs.  (Annie Dillard, in The Writing Life)

When I was about ten, with the consent of my parents I joined the Book-of-the-Month Club and the Science Fiction Book Club.  I did ordinary boy things then -- backyard capture the flag games, bicycling, camping out, and more -- but my best memories are about being with a book.  For example, I read a book of Robert Heinlein science fiction short stories around that time and to this day remember some of those stories -- like the one about the man who went shopping, entered the down escalator, and never got off.  He kept going down, down, down, and grew more frantic and delirious as he went down.  It did not end well.  I do not like to shop now, and I think about that story and others about elevators when I use them.  That's a good writer -- take something we're a little bit nervous about and exaggerate it and provoke a response in the reader.  Scaring ten year old boys.  They should be ashamed.

But honestly, I read it all -- all my sisters' Nancy Drew books, all of Aesop's Fables and Grimm's Fairy Tales, Barclay's commentaries, a book about a mountain doctor (I still remember what that one felt like), books on prayer, devotionals, Reader's Digests, Redbook, Ladies Home Journal (sans the "racy" ads my mother expunged), Popular Mechanics (the only thing my Dad read), and a huge illustrated Family Bible with pictures I pored over (I remember its musty smell and cool pages when I cracked it open).  I read it all; thus, I started on book clubs. 

I had two best friends.  I don't think they read anything except, unfortunately, Playboy Magazine. (Well, maybe they didn't really read it.)

We weren't a literary family with bookshelves of Faulkner, Yeats, Twain, and Hemingway, but we had books, and we read them.  I'm thankful for that environment.  It taught be something.  It taught me that subtlety is more powerful than in-your-face reality, carefully crafted words more mind-expanding than images.

It's what makes me have a love/hate relationship with film.  I love films.  Their images are in one way so powerful.  And I hate films.  They give me one very sensual picture of the reality of a story and then, for better or worse, I'm stuck with it.  My mind has been spoon fed.  I don't get to allow words to shape my own imagination.  So I feel cheated.

Nevertheless, many people prefer films.  They may even prefer them to life.  I don't.  Give me a book any day.  Give me that chair my Mom had where I spent hours reading, not even coming to supper, preferring words to food (a propensity I wish had lasted).  Give me a book and I'll go anywhere -- even shopping.

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