Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Neverland of books

“A library is many things. It's a place to go, to get in out of the rain. It's a place to go if you want to sit and think. But particularly it is a place where books live, and where you can get in touch with other people, and other thoughts, through books. If you want to find out about something, the information is in the reference books---the dictionaries, the encyclopedias, the atlases. If you like to be told a story, the library is the place to go. Books hold most of the secrets of the world, most of the thoughts that men and women have had. And when you are reading a book, you and the author are alone together---just the two of you. A library is a good place to go when you feel unhappy, for there, in a book, you may find encouragement and comfort. A library is a good place to go when you feel bewildered or undecided, for there, in a book, you may have your question answered. Books are good company, in sad times and happy times, for books are people---people who have managed to stay alive by hiding between the covers of a book.” --E.B. White

I have a small library of my own. Our house is a library to hundreds, probably thousands of books. Personal books, books chosen with care, books kept over the years or received as gifts; books carefully saved for; stacks from dollar-a-bag-sales; but each kept for a reason. Some are new, but most of them are old. I wouldn't know how to live without being surrounded by books. Books are my life. And libraries are the extension of that. A place that, like my home, is filled to brimming with books; an open door to knowledge, imagination, and comfort.

Public libraries are to me, a boon and a privilege (my eternal gratitude, Benjamin Franklin). How many people have been introduced to a wealth of knowledge in those aisles of books? Introduced to stories they would never have known, been able to read stacks of books that they needn't buy... able to acquire wide-spread literacy and a vast array of knowledge from books one might never own.

I'm glad to be part of the organism of a library, even though it's a very small part. I clean the library, you see, which I find a very peaceful and satisfying job: contributing to the order, restfulness, and helpfulness of a library. I go about my job surrounded by books, and feel in some way that my work is for the books themselves. I am left alone with books for hours, and it doesn't matter that I can't be reading them just then; like the best of friends, they keep me company, they wait, they are satisfied with silence.

You know the feeling of those particular friends with whom you needn't speak? Perhaps there are many other people about, or perhaps you are alone together, but either way you feel no inclination to conversation. But you will be reminded of something that makes you smile, and you have only to look over at your friend to know that they are thinking the same. You share in silence a series of private jokes and appreciate your shared views on your surroundings. Books can do that. Even without opening the covers of the books, I can feel the camaraderie in the crowds of people I know and love from those pages. There are hundreds of shared moments, and secret codes and private jokes that I share with those characters. In a library I am in good company; there are so many characters in a library—quite a diverse lot—and I don't know them all. In fact I see many that I hope to meet one day, like the man at the edge of the crowd, or the girl looking out the window. And for those characters that I very much wish to keep at a distance, there is generally a good-natured army with which I am already acquainted, to keep them at bay.

So yes, the company of books makes my work seem enjoyable, and anything but lonely. The thing is of course, that it makes me want to return to the library when it is actually open, to peruse at my leisure, and lose myself in a new book. There is also a great sense of security in having a key... the thought that, if all else fails, I can let myself into the library. That ultimate safe-haven. A consoling fortress. I'll be able to just sit there with the books and breathe.

Books are magic. All the thoughts and histories of the ages held between those worn bindings. The outpouring of an author's heart and soul, years after they are gone. Ink on paper, combining those same twenty-six letters into timeless phrases and lasting stories; characters with history, vigour, and poetic souls. How many times has there been a priceless connection between a reader and the book I hold in my hand? Books (like the TARDIS, and the stable on the hill) are bigger on the inside. They hold forests and cities, sprawling countryside, and grey high-rises; fantastical castles rising in mist, elves and dwarves and lost boys of Neverland; books can make you laugh out loud without expecting to; they can make you cry and pray; strengthen your heart and inspire you.

It was only recently that I actually read Peter Pan, and I enjoyed it so thoroughly that I rather think I appreciated it more than I might have years ago. But no matter. I shall read it to my children when they are young and when they are old. It is brilliant nonsense; it captures imagination somehow, and how children (and people like me) see the world. It gives one categories.

My Neverland began, like so many others, as that childish island of make-believe and indians and stories read to me—before I had ever heard of Peter Pan, or really begun to read anything at all. And entirely unaware of the fact that Wendy had 'played mother' before me, I gravely cared for dozens of imaginary children, and had all sorts of nonsensical adventures. But as I grew, I read more and more; so instead of disappearing, my Neverland just grew as I did, and now contains all those many places: the thymey downs of Narnia, and the cliffs of Exmoor; the misty expanse of Middle Earth, the riverbank, platform 9 3/4.... there's the beast's castle, and a merrel in the rafters of a great hall; miles of open sea, dotted with sails...

And with the mind of a writer, stories pour forth from the oddest corners and scraps of knowledge or snippets of personality. My mind teems with stories. The smallest thing will set me off, and there before me unrolls stories, ideas, thoughts and dreams, characters, and miles of road; rain drumming on castle walls; the moon rising over a London flat. They grow in my mind; there are countless places for me to visit now. Some I deserted long ago, and they stand empty; some were set so thoroughly in motion that there is life still, when I return after long absence. Some I have forgotten entirely. But it is my very own Neverland, and no other would look quite the same. It has helped to make me, just as I have busily built it.