Tampere_library_shelves

We helped Nonny (Amanda’s grandmother) from one assisted living home to another yesterday. And she told me that I “was such a good book” for helping her move.

She has early-stage dementia, and one of her symptoms is what Amanda calls her “word salad.” She mixes up her words. Like, yesterday, the nails with which to hang her pictures were “nuts.”

“I have plenty of nuts” we were told “to hang up my pictures with.” (this was in the context of assuring us that she could finish decorating her room without us, which was manifestly not true)

So, when she called me a “good book,” I knew that she meant “good boy.”

But I prefer “book.” In fact, it’s one of the best compliments I’ve ever received. Because, you know, some of my best friends are books.

* * *

I once wrote, in a paper outlining my teaching philosophy, that I subscribe to the theory of social-epistemology. That is, knowledge is socially constructed in dialogic relationships with others. And, I stressed, this even true if one’s interlocutors are books. Especially books!

* * *

I have many friends who are books.

These books have enchanted the world for me; they have taught me about the curious organ that we call the human heart.

I have soft, easy-going friends like my cheap science fiction and fantasy novels (I won’t tell you which ones!). They’re average, dependanble, predictable, kind.

I have moody, introverted friends like The Bluest Eye and The Road. They make me think, challenge my assumptions, and move me closer to art.

I have friends who are driven to achieve and keep achieving, like To Kill a Mockingbird and The Omnivore’s Dilemma. They’re inspirational, informational, and set high standards.

I have class-clown types too, friends like Notes From a Small Island and A Walk in the Woods. They’re friends to go out on the town with, friends to stay up drinking with.

I have deeply philosophical and intelligent friends, friends like Justice and the Politics of Difference and Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. They help destabilize me and lead me toward better knowledge of myself and others.

I have friends who are great conversationalists, friends like Orthodoxy and Pygmalion. These friends’ artistic command of language helps me improve my own.

I have adventurous friends who help me live vicariously through them, friends like The Lord of the Rings and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. They whet my appetite for a taste of what is beyond.

I have dry friends and weepy friends, silly friends and somber friends, desperate friends and satisfied friends, foolish friends and brilliant friends.

And these friends, bound by glue, populate my shelves.

* * *

But the corollary is also true.

If books can be people, then people can be books.

What kind of book am I?
What kind of book should I be?
What kind of book do I want to be?

I think Nonny answered all three of these with her description: a good book.

And that’s about right.

I am/should be/want to be a good book.

A book that holds a reader’s attention?
A book that tells a compelling story about the world and her people?
A book that this enjoyable?

Sure.

But also a book that may lose a reader after the first page.
Or a book whose story is a bit mundane, whose take on the world is a bit routine.
Or a book that is bit uncomfortable, a bit too hard-hitting.

Because a person, like a book, is a unique gift of Signs.

A take on the meaning of the world, reverberating out across a web of words.

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