Friday, November 14, 2008

Sharing Books

One of my favorite quotes, the one that embodies so eloquently and deeply not only what books mean to me, but what they mean to my relationships with other people, is from a poem by W. B. Yeats: “I bring you with reverent hands / the books of my numberless dreams.”* (From "A Poet to His Beloved") I can't imagine any vow or promise carrying more significance than the sentiment that line expresses.

Books are so easily shared, yet are so tremendously personal. The person I am, the way I think, the way I approach life, have all been shaped by the books that I have read. I've never been able to name "the book that changed my life" because every book has changed my life. The ones that I love are more than just objects on a shelf (or mp3s on my ipod). They hold parts of me inside of them. In their pages, they hold the places, the thoughts, the people, the smells, sounds, emotions that surrounded me as I read. Often rereading can take me back to the time and place of that previous read, can remind me more sharply of particular moments or feelings than anything else can.

And so, sharing books, even sharing thoughts about books, can be a very intimate act, when it comes right down to it. I mentioned in a previous post that I’ve been collecting quotes since I was in high school. In blank books, I write down lines and passages from books or articles or that I just stumble across somewhere. I sometimes think that giving someone those quote books to read would reveal more about me than giving them the journals that I’ve kept in the last 15 years. In them are the ideas that I identified with, agreed with, found funny, found moving, disagreed with but found thought-provoking--and how I’ve grown in my thoughts about everything over the years (even if I am still mostly reading books for the YA audience). I love sharing books with people, I love the sense that I am saying, essentially, “Here is something that got inside my head, and I hope it gets inside yours, too, and let's talk about it once you read it.”

Everything we read affects our minds somehow, and being able to share something that affects your mind is pretty remarkable. Being able to have a conversation with another person about how that book affected you, what it made you think, is exciting. Maybe the person I share with won’t pick up on the exact same themes or passages that I did, but regardless, we’ll still both have that book, that story, inside of us. This feeling about books may be part of why I have an enormous to-read list. Because every time a friend tells me about a book they’ve loved or found interesting, I want to read it, too, to understand something that’s now a part of that person I care about.

My library doesn’t contains just stories and worlds and beautiful writing. It contains memories, emotions, thoughts. . . . The books that I keep, the ones I’ve connected to and identified with and found valuable enough to cart with me from apartment to apartment, to make sure I have the space for . . . well, I’m attached to them. Lots of times I’ve actually scribbled notes in them and marked the passages I later transcribed in my quote books. They’re little parts of my mind. My numberless dreams.

* Thanks, Angie, who introduced me to this quote. (In fact, is this quote part of the reason we became friends? Apart from our mutual literary crush on George Cooper? (And other mutual literary crushes.))


  1. Okay, this post had me choked up. Because it's exactly the way I feel. The first time I read that Yeats quote, I burst into tears on the spot because I had never heard it put quite so aptly. It, along with the wonderful George, is undoubtedly the reason we became friends. Not a bad foundation for a friendship. Not bad at all.

  2. This post is golden, M. You express exactly what it means to be a lover of books, and words, and all they encompass. I'm printing this and saving it in MY file of important things I've read.