Books are places of comfort. Not because they are not capable of bringing out your worst fears and anxieties but precisely because they do just that. They bring out your worst fears, your biggest dreams and wildest of hopes, and they stay with you through it all. Books can never leave you, see. They will never leave you. You can bare your soul to a book and it will hold you tighter. You read each word and each word turns into a sentence which turns into a paragraph which turns into a page. As you read each word you create a story. The author creates the bones of it, but really and truly, you create the story (Neil Gaiman explored this idea in a talk entitled “The Pornography of Genre, or the Genre of Pornography”), so as you read a book you can rest assured that it is your own. The words in the story as they’re written don’t belong to you but the journey the story takes you on does, because you created that. You used your imagination to take yourself on a journey with the book through a blacked out hotel in Baghdad, escaping death from car bomb solely because you bent down to pet a cat, or across the windy Brighton Pier during Planet Con, frantically searching for your missing daughter. You went on a journey with the book and the book went on a journey with you. You learned from it and I wonder…. What did it learn from you?
You get to the last page and you start at the beginning, all over again, with the promise that the words will always be there. They won’t run off the page when the going gets tough. In fact they may appear to hang on all the harder. But you also keep the words, stories, and ideas with you in more important ways. In your heart and in your brain words and stories never die. As a certain character named “V” said in an 80’s comic: “There’s no flesh and blood within this cloak to kill. There’s only an idea. Ideas are bulletproof.”
Ideas never leave you. Stories never die.
Books are the most loyal of friends.
A transcription of Neil Gaiman’s “The Pornography of Genre, or the Genre of Pornography” talk can be found in his new book The View From the Cheap Seats.
If Baghdad or the Brighton Pier sound intriguing to you, I recommend you read The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell, which is the inspiration for this post.