We are told that Life Is Short. Trouble is, we never believe that when we’re young. It seems inevitable that we shall take no notice of the evaporation of time until many, many grains of sand have tumbled down in the hourglass. But there comes a day for all of us when we notice that the catalog of our options, once so voluminous, seems to have been edited down to novella size. No, I won’t dance the lead in The Nutcracker now, and you probably won’t pilot a rocket to Mars. Those possibilities are past, at least for most of us. And although it’s no secret that I love to travel, I am well aware of the multitude of vistas I shall never see. So many seaside rooms in which I shall never sleep, doorways I shall never enter, corners I shall never turn. It’s true enough, life is too short to pack it all in.
But my passport might as well be stamped on every single page, for I have tickets in my possession that are capable of transporting me anywhere I choose to wander, at anytime of the day or night. For I am a reader, and books are my tickets to the myriad of places, and times, I shall never otherwise visit. Through them I listen to mysterious voices and gaze into exotic eyes. I sail turbulent seas and dine with poets and rogues. I wander strange cities dressed all in blue, all the while filling my luggage with enough souvenirs to last a lifetime. Such is the power of words.
Knowledge is a river that flows, swiftly, through our lives. We stare down into the dark current, searching for our reflection, but all we see are words. And it is of no benefit to simply watch them rush by. Indeed, if we choose to sit on the grassy bank for too long, it may well transform into a bog just as deadly to the imagination as Grimpen Mire was to life and limb, leaving us forever stuck in the dim light of incuriousity. No, far better to grab a ticket and cannonball in. For there are places we shall never visit, people we shall never meet, knowledge we shall never attain if we don't read.
I adore all sorts of books, but my favourites are those in which the current of language washes over me, leaving behind insight and heart knowledge I couldn’t possibly articulate. In the hands of wizards such as Virginia Woolf, Edith Wharton, or Anne Michaels, words can crack open a soul and give us a glimpse into truth impossible to find elsewhere. When Mrs. Dalloway walks through London on that morning in June, I feel what she’s feeling deep down in my bones. That pendulum in her soul that swings betwixt wonder and despair is recognizable to me. What a Lark! What a Plunge! Indeed.
I recently finished another book that explores the inner workings of the soul better than any archaeologist could. Tinkers by Paul Harding hasn’t gotten very much attention, even though it recently, and deservedly, won the Pulitzer prize. The story of a dying clockmaker, it is a novel in which nothing much happens, but through Mr. Harding's brilliant use of the English language, we are taken on a journey through the human soul that is as lovely as it is rare. There are sentences here that I read over and over, just to wallow in the beauty of the words.
Now that Christmas is fast upon us, I am busy compiling my annual list of books to consider for presents. I’ll share that list here soon, but in the meantime, are there any tickets to wondrous places that sit on your own bookshelves? Do share, won’t you?