I started a new graduate program and although I am doing one class at a time, it has, as I feared it might, taken a toll on my reading-and-writing-for-pleasure life. The good news is my current class is called Literature for Older Children, so the books I’m reading and the thinking I’m doing aligns quite nicely with my passion for literacy. But it also means I have a stack of 4 books I’ve finished that I want to write about. I chose today’s book based on the other current time-stealer of my life: moving.
My new lease a few blocks away starts next Saturday, so I spent last night packing and ended up with 20 boxes of books. I admire when people move here with a suitcase or two, and part of me craves the simplicity of space that accompanies such a move. But I remember when I moved to New York almost ten years ago now and felt I needed to bring my books with me so that I would remember who I was in this brand new city. And through 5–almost 6–apartments I have packed and unpacked and added to the stacks. Handling every book I own last night was an incredible experience in reflection because I began to see my story in the conglomeration of texts: my elementary reading self in my mid eighties copies of The Wizard of Oz and Number the Stars, the eight Virginia Woolfs I read in half a semester and how I was never the same again, the striking poetry contained in the prose of The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy that cultivated the kind of book I love to read as an adult.
In keeping with my New Years resolution to read book I already own, I finished Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury a few weeks ago and it reignited (see what I did there?) my passion for not just reading as much as I can, but for getting as many books in front of my students as possible. Reading in 2013 the futuristic book Bradbury wrote the book in 1950 was fascinating (and reminded me of reading Super Sad True Love Story a few years back) because though his portrayal of futuristic technological and political powers were close enough to feel incredibly eerie.
Montag, the main character, is a fireman–and in his time that means they start fires to burn books rather than put fires out. Books cause people to think and to question–they disrupt ones mental “peace”–so the government has decided to do away with them. Montag begins to feel restless and decides to quietly figure out what it is about books that makes them so dangerous.
He is asked by a closet former reader: “How did you get shaken up? What knocked the torch out of your hands?”
Montag replies: “I don’t know. We have everything we need to be happy, but we aren’t happy. Something’s missing. I looked around. The only thing I positively knew was gone was the books I’d burned in ten or twelve years. So I thought books might help.”
“It’s not the books you need, it’s some of the things that once were in books…Take it where you can find it, in old motion pictures, and in old friends; look for it in nature and look for it in yourself. Books were only one type of receptacle where we stored a lot of things we were afraid we might forget. There is nothing magical in them at all. The magic is only in what books say, how they stitched the patches of the universe together into one garment for us.”
Yes. And so upon reading this book I was re-reminded to keep my eyes open for the mysteries and to ask questions. I was re-reminded that if my life feels off-kilter, chances are I’m forgetting to dwell in the details that make life rich and instead choosing to occupy myself with errands and to-do lists. Packing up my own books reminded me of the stories that enrich my story and grew my desire to share this with the 100 students I see everyday: that they might question the world and seek beauty and desire understanding. And I can’t do that unless I am living in such a way myself.