Knowing that I read … a lot, a friend asked me a few days back, ‘So what’s a book that’s changed your life?’ I was stumped. Perhaps, being a good Baptist boy I should say the bible. It’s certainly up there, but it’s not what comes immediately to mind. In fact, there’s not one particular book that does. There are memorable ones etched on the brain and others nestled deep in the heart, but in my life the formative influence of books is not in particular encounters. It’s accumulative.
When I sit back and look at my bookcases, there’s a sense in which I see myself in all the fat and skinny volumes pressed up against each other–light and heavy, funny and perplexing, sad and irritating, poetic and didactic. These books, together, have shaped my thinking and feeling and speaking and being in ways I can’t even understand. At times they’ve been places of escape, friends amidst loneliness, discipline to counter laziness; some have been sheer hard work and others pleasure–good, patient and pleasant company. Books do many things–they prod, they irritate, they inspire, they inform, they educate, but they never rush you. Perhaps that’s what I like about them most of all.
Late Saturday night my son and I walked over to Federation Square. We went to see the Light in Winter exhibition, an outdoor collection of light-filled installations inspired by the National Year of Reading. One of them is called Literature versus Traffic by the Spanish collective Luzinterruptus. It’s an intriguing and constantly changing installation of old, pre-loved, discarded books collected by the Salvation Army and illuminated by light. I found it quite moving, to see books laid out like this, like a pathway, a road, and each one leading onto the next. It reminded me of an ancient prayer labyrinth, though much less prescribed–more fluid, chaotic. It’s beautiful.