This one is about books.
I don’t remember the first book I read. I don’t remember the first book I really loved either. Probably because I also can’t remember a time when I couldn’t read. What I can remember is being drawn to anything with peril. Which probably explains why I remember with such clarity the first book cover that made me question why we’re not allowed to judge the words inside by them.
This short, sharp lesson was delivered by an edition of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The cover was the same back and front; thin trees, almost birch-like, with golden sunlight shining through and a simple brown leather spine. I had seen the film of course and, as far as I could tell, this book cover presented no connection to the story I had seen play out in ‘glorious technicolor’ time and time again. The story inside this book was far darker, far more interesting than anything I saw or heard the Hollywood Miss Gale do. The cover of this book made me feel afraid. The trees were far too close together. Dense wood with light just out of reach. Reading the words inside, I discovered the dark world of L Frank Baum and shared the peril he put the inheritor of those – wait for it – silver shoes through.
I started to apply this lesson each and every time I went to the library. I wouldn’t even look at the title of the book in some cases. Just the cover. If it depicted peril in any way, I was in. If it showed any signs of being about almost anything else, I was out. The peril could take place in any setting. The city, the country, outer space. I was just desperate to get back into the woods.
Today, I find myself lost in a different type of woods as a reader. I only recently started using the public library again. No longer free to roam the ‘young readers’ section, I browse the stacks where the covers are out of sight and Melvin Dewey’s legacy conspires to keep me in a different type of peril. I cannot see the trees for the books. My Kindle can’t help me either, devoid of covers until purchase and even then in black and white. My only saving grace is a beautiful hour every weekend spent in a second hand bookshop, it renews my love of covers but I get so distracted by the history of the books themselves that I often leave empty handed.
In the interim, I have books I like to revisit. Like spending time with old friends. It might be a year or two between those visits but I learn something new every time. I like to share these books with people important to me. Their covers, long ago ceasing to be important. I love to be given books myself but I understand that, for the giver, it is a risk. An action that dares say ‘I know you so well, I know what you’d like to put in your brain’ or sometimes it’s just ‘I want to put what I like in your brain’.
When you give a book to another you are handing over, potentially, thousands of words to exchange in the future.
To give a book is an investment.
To give a book is to say ‘I like you enough to take this risk’.
I hope that my own book will make it to a shelf to be chosen one day. For sharing or keeping. The cover design drawing in those in search of peril perchance. It will almost certainly have trees on it.
If my words deliver, only time will tell.
To give a book of your own words is maybe the greatest risk.
To give a book of your own words is to say ‘Like me enough to let me take this risk’.