The Books They Gave Me

12 Jan

I recently picked up a book compiled by Jen Adams called The Books They Gave Me.  Her introduction begins, “J. Alfred Prufrock measured his life out in coffee spoons.  I measure mine out in pages.  I am the archetypal bookworm, never without a book in my bag and four more in progress on my nightstand… In short books are my language, my vocabulary.  Every experience in my life is filtered through what I’ve read and somehow processed in prose.  I’m constantly reading and constantly writing.  And anyone who knows me well must understand and accept this about me.  The books are nonnegotiable. They are part of me.  They are me.”  When I first read this I was certain we had been separated at birth.  Books are me.  It is what I have been and what I will always be.

Jen’s book is a compilation of stories submitted to her about books that people have received as gifts and what those books have come to mean to each of these people.  As I read each entry I really started thinking about all of the books I have received over the years and I realized that just as I can name theme songs for different periods of my life I can also name the books that will always hold great significance, sometimes because of who gave them to me and sometimes because of the circumstance I was in when reading them.  From Outside Over There, which my grandparents gave to me way before I was even able to understand how amazing an author and illustrator Maurice Sendak was and always will be, to the Where the Wild Things Are Poster that my first true love gave to me on our first Christmas together because he understood the importance of books in my life, to the birthday gift of three used books from my neighbor’s very cute younger brother who knew exactly what I wanted even though he had only know me a month, to the autographed copy of Walter the Farting Dog that my GM had sought out at an industry conference because he knew that there are few things more entertaining in children’s picturebooks than a farting dog, to the copy of The Princess Bride that my brother-in-law gave to me one Christmas during the years when I was lucky enough to be a full-time part of their life in Korea, to the countless books my mom sent me while I was there which made me equally laugh, cry, and look like a crazy foreigner on my commute to and from work each day, to The Sun Also Rises and The Moon and Sixpence which my dad insisted I had to read while visiting Paris.  There are so many more that I could add to the list and in each I’m sure you would never find a run-on sentence as long as the one you have just read.  Needless to say, these are the ones that stick out as having lead me to the place I am today.  In a short 24 hours my online fundraiser will be finished and I will be taking the next step toward owning the Owl.  When I first started working at Borders I was a little lost in life so I developed this theory that one day a book would fall on my head and whatever the subject was would lead me to my true purpose in life.  Although I didn’t ever actually have a book fall on my head, I still believe it lead me to this place and this mission to ensure that generations to come will still have a chance to understand the magic and endless possibilities of holding a real book in their hands.

To sum up in better words than mine Jen tells us, “In this age of the e-book, part of the appeal of being given a hard copy book as a gift is its tangible timelessness.  Books are real.  You can give a book as a gift.  Kindles are great for reading on the subway, and they get people to read more than they might otherwise, but they are flatly unromantic.  Paper books offer a kind of permanent charm.  They don’t expire; they can’t disappear in a power surge.  Books last.”

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