30 May 2007


i want to talk about books. specifically, my life long obsession with the written word.

i've been helping will sort through the thousands of emails and one thing keeps coming up. people from places throughout the world that have little or no access to books are begging for the stockpile. i make it through about 5 before i'm lost in tears, i don't know how much more i can take. the woman in argentina that wants them for a library but can't afford to get them there, the man in africa that speaks of those with an unquenchable thirst for words and there are virtually none to be found. the soldiers, the children... the list goes on and on... i find myself going back and forth between sadness and anger. there is such a disconnect between a culture that reads mainly when it is only required of them, and millions of others that want to and can't. it doesn't seem fair.

i've been reading as long as i can remember. my family chided me for reading books that were "too old" for me. i was often the object of ridicule on the playground. i read books with my grandmother and mother. i wrote my own and illustrated them. in a childhood that was filled with fright on so many levels - i can honestly say that my books saved me - there was always adventure and mystery and a whole new world at my fingertips. i was the encyclopedia - a through z. i was pippi longstocking (note to self - find halloween picture of you dressed as pippi - robin?), sailing the high seas with my monkey. i was eppie in silas marner. i was nancy drew, solving another mystery. much later, i was pecola in the bluest eye... no matter how ugly things got in my life, and they did, escape was but a page away. a new world was possible - sometimes a scary world, but mostly a better world and life - and a beginning, middle, and end.

when someone tells me that they don't read, a little part of me dies inside. there is nothing that can take the place of the workings of one's own mind, of imagination, of painting a picture for oneself and not having it painted for them. when that same person tells me that it is a sin to burn books... well, burned or no, they are not being read. isn't that really the same thing? i understand the frustration, as it is my own when the volumes couldn't even be given away. when i look around and see books stacked up that no one wants to read, insane illiteracy rates in the wealthiest country in the world, people waiting for days in line for the latest release of a video game or the newest biggest plasma hdtv television - all of this when there are hungry minds in countries i've never been to writing us that would give anything for just. one. book. i don't know how to possibly begin to get them to them. books not bombs has never had more meaning to me than now.

there is a rack outside of prospero's filled with books. during the day, they are sold for a dollar. at night, when the windows are dark, they are fair game. it always cracked me up to see a dollar shoved under the door when i'd open the store in the morning. and made me a little sad that more hadn't disappeared in the night. someone, somewhere had the genius to sit down and take command of words - managed to perfectly string them together to create something that no one else could - and bind it all together. the sin is it sitting there, collecting dust - silently screaming, "read me! read me!" to the non-readers, you have no idea what you are missing. it pains me to know that you can read and won't.

for years now, i've set my focus on reading mostly non-fiction. i've been slowly trying to delve back in to works of fiction - one of my final classes at the new school was a short fiction class for that reason alone. i make sorry attempts at writing and stand in awe of those that can use words to paint me a picture - to tell me a story. it truly is a difficult and miraculous thing to me. i watch bebe light up when he moves away from his toys to a book. "THIS one, mommy! THIS one!!!" i feel a deep pang of joy when i turn to see what he's up to from the kitchen and he is sitting on the couch, soaking in the pages of a book - "reading" quietly to himself. he'll ask to read it over and over and over again. and i do. gladly. i want him to know the joy that reading has always brought me, the insatiable hunger and thirst. i want him to feel it somewhere inside - somewhere so deeply that it simply becomes a part of who he is, and he carries it with him for always. he deserves that. i also now want him to know that having books is a luxury he should not ever take for granted. they can disappear, just like that. i want him to know that unmistakable excitement of reading a book and wanting to tell everyone about it - of finding that one masterpiece that changes. his. life. i want that for everyone.

bebe asks to go to the bookstore everyday. we read books in the back. we explore the nooks and crannies. we walk up and down and up and down the stairs. his little hand print is set in the concrete in the basement, painted red. he loves to show it off. i hope that he will be able to do so when he is 20. i hope that books don't become relegated to boxes in attics and basements across the land. i hope... but i do worry about this culture turning its collective back on books. very much. i'd be lying if i said i didn't.

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