Humanity reflected in the diversity of books

booksThey have faces, of course — covers for what is inside. Often the cover belies the interior, just as the bright alluring faces of people often hide the seething and confusing stories beneath them.

And they have spines of various strengths and tensile pliability like we do. Spines that sag and crack and creak, spines that are wonderfully strong and flexible for a few decades and then invisibly deteriorate and lose their glue. They have arms too, so to speak — a book opened wide very like arms flung open. And their back covers, so dense with explanation and blurb, look very like the hirsute backs of heads;.

Like people, no book is exactly symmetrical, the printing of pages leaving the edges just slightly awry, as we are always, despite all preparation and presentation — one shoe tied loosely, the beard unevenly trimmed, one eye larger than the other, the spectacles askew, all the bills paid but the one that arrives with a snarl.

Some books are as small as a hand, some as fat as a head, some broad as a beam, some very nearly the size of a coffee-table. Some are faint as a whisper, some old and brittle, their skins leathery, their stitching unraveling. Some are so fragile that a good sneeze would reduce them to dust, yet the ancient fragile ones are so often the ones with the most dignity and the most remarkable stories inside — just like people.

Some blandly bound but roaring inside, some brightly bound but insipid, some missing pages, some amputated, some excoriated, some burned in piles, the ideas inside too incendiary for the authority of the moment. Some imprisoned for the ideas therein, some confined to cells. Some stolen, some kidnapped, some tumble into rivers and oceans, a few have travelled into space and hovered weightlessly under the patient and uncountable stars.

Some humble, some pompous, some evil, some crammed with inextinguishable joy. Some born to delight children, some to poke the powerful, some to pierce the heart. Some have no words at all and some are so wordy as to be unintelligible. Some earnest, some nefarious, some renowned, most obscure. Some advance the universe in extraordinary ways, many distract and delay rather than enthrall or edify. Some filled with lust, some with song, some brave, some craven. Some famous for no reason, others incredibly unsung.

All have layers upon layers and are more subtle than they appear. Most get better the longer and deeper you pursue the story. Some end with a bang, some just slide quietly to a close. All are born in mysterious ways — we haven't the slightest idea how a wriggle of story wends its way into complex creation.

Some we cannot live without, some we leave after years of struggle, some we cannot comprehend or engage, some we cannot forget. Some we wish to have by our sides always, their familiar faces beaming nearby, their voices warm and wise, their spines welcoming your fingers, their very scent a redolent country you itch to visit and are loathe to leave. Yet some we dislike, even detest. Some we set ourselves against with faces like flint.

Many we ignore too easily, many we will never read, a million we will never know, such being the way of the world.

Some once meant everything and now mean nothing. Some grow quietly in our hearts as the years go by. Some spoke powerfully once and then faded. Some arrive suddenly, stunning and refreshing, from unexpected quarters of the compass, and you know in moments you will be friends for life. Some are dressed in motley and rags but a light shines forth adamant and strong. Some are all thunder and no rain. Some are wiser than their own words can measure.

All matter in ways great and small, as all house stories, and stories are what we are and how we speak and how we mill mundane into miracle.

We take so them for granted. We think new ones will always be freely born. We see them so often we forget how extraordinary they are; until, once in a while, maybe this morning, we think for a moment what the world would be like without them.


Brian DoyleBrian Doyle is the editor of Portland Magazine at the University of Portland, and the author most recently of Thirsty for the Joy: Australian & American Voices (One Day Hill).


Flickr image by 0olong



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