Sharing the gift of a book
I recently was reading Adam Gopnik’s delightful book about raising a family in New York City, “Through the Children’s Gate,” and with every page I turned the thought grew that I must send the book to my son and daughter-in-law. They are immersed in New York City; the city is immersed in them.
Gopnik memorably captures the rhythms of New York — the exhilaration, restlessness, joy and stress of living in that non-stop asphalt jungle. I knew that the book, published a dozen years ago but still fresh, would mean so much to my son and daughter-in-law.
I often feel this urge to pass on a book I’m reading. This year I’ve given Pico Iyer’s “The Lady and the Monk” to someone who went to college in Kyoto, Norman Maclean’s “A River Runs Through It” to a devoted fly fisherwoman, and a nineteenth-century account of travels in the Sandwich Islands to a transplanted Hawaiian.
Maybe my impulse comes out of the fact that reading is a solitary activity. I feel a need to share something I’ve read that’s taken off the top of my head — an Emily Dickinson moment. But I want to share it with someone whose head top also would be taken off.
Ashland is a community of avid readers. And plenty of them share their reading wealth. Bloomsbury Books has registered 175 book clubs, although not all of them are currently active. If there are at least 10 members in every book club, the total comes to around 2,000 in a community of just over 20,000. Additionally, around a dozen Little Free Libraries have sprouted in Ashland neighborhoods. We just planted one in ours. You take a book, you leave a book. So many people are paying serious attention to the written word. That’s heartening.
I admit to buying more books than I read. I add them to my collection as if they are wines I am cellaring, saving them to open at some future time. When I do get around to reading one of them, the feeling of opening a present to myself warms me. Then I find that I’m ready to give the book to someone else. Books, like wine, should not be consumed alone.
Truth be told, I can’t possibly live long enough to read all the books I have. I need to keep in mind Schopenhauer’s remark that too often the purchase of books is mistaken for the appropriation of their contents.
The rewards of giving books are manifold. One stands out in my experience. Someone I had begun a relationship with asked me if I knew about a book about a woman who had gone in and out of numerous engagements to be married. She had read a review and the book sounded interesting. “Oh, that’s ‘The Bolter,’ ” I immediately answered, plucking it off my bookshelf and handing it to her. That moved the needle in the right direction. We’ve been under the same roof now for nearly 10 years.
My son thanked me for “Through the Children’s Gate,” but divulged that he already owns the book and enjoyed reading it very much. No matter. He can pass mine on to another New Yorker who will appreciate it.
Dennis Read lives in Ashland.