Booked [a review]

This is a picture of my actual library copy. I fell in love with reading young, beginning my affair with the written word as my mother read to me, continuing as I sounded out the words of the Boxcar Children aloud within my mother's earshot. I could never understand how she magically knew what word I was trying to say, every time. Reading tells it's secrets slowly.

I cried painful tears as I learned to read, sitting next to the record player, listening to phonics spin on the turntable. I still remember the pesky bunnies which were often bunnies but sometimes rabbits (which confused my little self to no end) and the way that they were storing up food for the winter. When I think of an insurmountable challenge, I think of that book.

In spite of this, I was captured quickly by story. Though I've begun to read much more nonfiction, fiction will always be my first love. Such seems to be the case for Karen Swallow Prior.

Her book begins, as many would if authors were completely honest, in the library of her childhood. She is an adult, returning to a hallowed place, a sanctuary.

This book is a love story, between a girl and her books, but also about a girl and her God.  Intermixed with titles, lines and images, I found a vulnerable, moving story of pursuit by a God unafraid of meeting His people where they are. Karen (and I) happened to be in books.

Reading is very personal, much more so than movie or music tastes, I think. It is possible to suffer through two hours, or three and a half minutes without more than slight discomfort.

A book is a commitment, a contract between you and an author you will likely never meet: you will give one another a chance, the benefit of the doubt. Because of this, I did not resonate with every example Karen listed as she described her spiritual formation through books. Her stories will sometimes be different from mine, because we are different people. But though I didn't recognize myself in every example, I did resonate with the process. I know what it is to read a book having nothing to do with Christianity on the surface, and find within the pages a truth, so poignant and obvious to me that it seems to stand off the page.

photo by Mo commons

There are countless books about books, and about reading. This book stood out to me, not only for the crisp, tight prose, but because of the dexterous way in which Karen weaves her story: sometimes painful, always thought provoking, starkly beautiful, through the pages of classic novels, works of poetry and plays. Like all real stories, and indeed, all great fiction, it is not neat and tidy, but therein lies the tale, does it not?

Like Karen, I have learned that it is not always enough to press a book into the hands of a friend, trusting that they will receive the same insight you have. She says: "The pages of books can change lives—as they have done mine—but it's not always so simple a transaction as merely reading the book and walking away, life transformed. It takes time for this to happen. If it happens at all." She speaks, in her chapter on Madame Bovary, about a friend to whom she sent the book, hoping that it would speak into her situation. As far as she knows, it remains unread.

I can only ask you to read this book, along with many others, and allow it, and them, to interact with your thoughts for a while. Live within this book and drink in the Maine landscape, young love (and lust), and perspective of the cloud of witnesses available to us all: within the books.