A few weeks ago a good friend of mine sent me a message. It’s always good to get a message from this friend. He has a habit of using a particular turn of phrase or asking a question that makes me think about things in a fresh way. Once, during the first lockdown last Spring, he sent a kind of riddle addressed to the whole family that required us to go outside together, look up, and study the night sky. On that beautiful, clear-sky evening, he persuaded us to consider the stars.
This time, my friend suggested that he had a book that he wanted to pass on to me. I might like to read it, he said, and maybe afterwards I’d like to pass the book on to someone else to enjoy. I have a confession to make. My friend delivered the book into my hands about three weeks ago, and I haven’t started to read it yet. But his gesture, and the gift of the mystery book that I still look forward to reading, have got me thinking, and have inspired what I suspect may turn out to be a little series of blog posts over the coming weeks.
I am indebted to this friend in more ways than one. For his idea of sharing a book with me also got me up out of my chair. In the spirit of reciprocity, I thought it might be fun to lend him one of my books too. So I walked into the next room and started to cast my eyes along my bookshelves. As I began to browse, I realised that choosing a book for someone requires quite a lot of thought. What kind of books would my friend actually enjoy? What would he find challenging or stimulating? Would he find my books boring?
As I considered which book to give to my friend to read, I pulled one or two that I knew I had enjoyed reading off the shelves and opened them. I read the first paragraph or two. Somehow they looked…unfamiliar. I had read them years before and they were sitting in all their glory on my shelf, but I had forgotten how they began! It was time to read them again.
I have learned at least two valuable lessons. First of all, sometimes we want to acquire more and more resources (OK, I admit it, in my case, it’s more and more books). But when we slow down a little, and take a more careful look at things, there are often treasure stores right in front of our eyes. There are a lot of books in the rooms of my house that are calling out for me to read them again. They still have much to give.
Secondly, books are not just for keeping to ourselves, but for sharing. Just before Easter I was chatting on Zoom to another friend who told me that during the pandemic she had created a little community book hub outside her house, a kind of reading exchange operating out of a garden shed that she had decorated just for that purpose. Books were one way for her to spread a little joy. This, I think, is inspiring.
I love my bookshelves. Their contents are colourful and eclectic and probably not at all to everyone else’s taste. I guess they say quite a lot about me, and the things that intrigue me. I wonder if you would you care to come with me on a virtual tour? I hope you will join me, next time, to look at my books a little more closely. In the meantime I will dust down the shelves and try to put them into some kind of order.
I’d love to hear your book stories too. Have you shared your books with anyone during lockdown? Perhaps you could tell us about that in the comments.
Now, before I forget, where did I put that book my friend gave me to read? …