It has been so lovely having The Young Queen with me the last few days. It seems that she has a knack for showing up just when I deeply need her, rather like the young Catholic version of Mary Poppins. One of the founding principles of our friendship has always been our shared joy in reading, and respect for great literature. So in honor of this love of books, and because I am tired of talking about my health, here’s a few bookish things:
Back when The Young Queen and I met, we were both part of a traveling youth ministry team. There were ten of us on the team, all packed into a large van pulling a trailer, which held all of our earthly possessions, plus retreat supplies. Each of us was allowed to have one suitcase which had to weigh less than 50 lbs., one backpack, one pillow, and a sleeping bag. This was before kindles, before smartphones, before laptops, before e-readers of any kind, so the only way to have a book on hand to read was to bring it with you.
In that situation, every ounce counts, and books are heavy. You already had to bring with you two books provided by the ministry organization, plus whatever binders were necessary for your team jobs (I had one for my role as drama leader, and one for my job as team finance person), plus your Bible and whatever other devotional books you needed. That didn’t leave a lot of room for anything else. In the end, there were exactly two books I took with me all across the country, literally top to bottom and side to side. They were:
- Love and Responsibility by Karol Wotyla: this is the book on sexual ethics that JP II wrote back before he was JP II. It tackles the thorny problem of how to love another person, especially romantically, without using them in any way. I remember laying on the floor of a tiny house on the side of the bayou in Louisiana, reading the section analyzing the different components of love and attraction, having my mind completely blown by how he laid the elements of one of the most mysterious things on earth all out like diagramming a sentence. It was the most amazing thing. Even ten years later, it still takes my breath away.
- Cordelia’s Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold: this is actually two books in one. It’s the first two books of her Vorkosigan saga, all of which are dear favorites. These two concern the meeting, courtship, and early married life of Cordelia and Aral, the parents of Miles Vorkosigan, the hero of the rest of the series. It’s the story of two people from radically different backgrounds, both lugging with them significant amounts of baggage, who love each other in part because of the way each of them has held on to their bedrock principles through everything. It’s one of the books I can read over and over again.
Speaking of reading books over and over again, do you know that there are people who only ever read a book once? I know! It’s so weird. I mean, I know there are some books so inane that reading them even once is a waste of time and brain cells, but I figure if a book is worth reading once, it’s probably worth reading again. The books I really love I read many, many times, until they start falling apart. And then sometimes I buy another copy. For example, there’s Les Miserables, which I first read in an abridged form in fifth grade. (I was really bored, and my seat in the classroom was back by the bookcase.) I bought the musical tie-in paperback edition in high school, read it until it started to fall apart, and then bought another copy. Now I have it on my kindle too.
Speaking of kindles, this week I was talking to The Young Queen about reading books on e-readers vs. real printed-on-paper books. It made me remember when I first got my kindle, and realized that I could carry hundreds of books around with me everywhere I went. Never again would I be stranded in a waiting room or anywhere without something to read. I could go on a road trip without having to make hard decisions about what books to take with me and what I would have to leave behind. It was amazing.
However, I’ve come to realize that one of the problems of having a kindle is that now most of my books are digital, and it’s hard to share them with people. One of the lovely things about being part of a literary family is that we would pass books around. One of the features of our Family Vacation was always the books various people would bring and leave in the living room for anyone to read. The way I first read Cordelia’s Honor was by borrowing it from Mariah. While it is true that you can loan some kindle books, it’s not the same as being able to hand someone a book, and say, “Read this.” I miss being able to do that.
Another benefit of having real, printed books: Science has analyzed what makes books smell good.
One of the best ways I know to unwind and relax before sleep is to read. However, I am not one of those people who can fall asleep reading. Reading, particularly if the book is good, keeps me awake until I am so exhausted the book drops out of my nerveless hands. (The one exception to this was the textbook for my college History 101 course. That semester, “I’m going to do my History reading” became a handy synonym for taking a nice nap.) So the key is to find a book that is just interesting enough to make me want to read it, but not so all-absorbing that I can’t put it aside and turn out the light when I am relaxed enough for sleep. I find non-fiction, particularly history and biographies works pretty well for this. I think my favorite adult bedtime book is The Icon and The Axe: An Interpretative History of Russian Culture.
Truly beautiful, via The Toast: Every English Novel Ever.
I know the artist probably thought the book Mary is reading was a prayer book, probably a lovely, illuminated Book of Hours (and given that this was painted between 1426 and 1432, it’s a little amazing that she’s portrayed as reading at all). However, I like to imagine that it’s a gripping adventure novel, with midnight duels, mad dashes across the midnight countryside to rescue someone in danger, mistaken identities, and the bad guys getting what they deserve in the end. Maybe something like The Prisoner of Zenda, or The Count of Monte Cristo. I bet she’d like that.
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