Public libraries stand as a symbol of a society that values thoughts and ideas – a society that appreciates art and believes it should be available to all – a literate society.
And (especially in free countries where libraries abound and good books can be had for free and taken for granted) homes need to have bookshelves in bedrooms, or rooms or walls dedicated to books. Even more especially when that home has children in it.
Books at home speak to values and art and equality too. But most of all books at home speak to comfort.
When a five-year-old is new to school and has flashes of nervousness about whether Mum or Dad will come back, or moments of worry about feeling alien in a new world, Stellaluna needs to be sitting on the shelf to be pulled out and read again. Perhaps it will be a conscious parental decision that this is the book for this moment - or an unconscious child decision that something in that book calls to me.
But when Stellaluna’s mother whispers, “You are Stellaluna. You are my baby.” or when Stellaluna declares to her bird friends “But we’re friends. And that’s a fact.” there is a gentle reassurance and strengthening – for parent and child – to face the world again.
Of course, Stellaluna is available at the library. But a five-year-old probably won’t ask to go to the library to borrow a particular book to heal a troubled little soul, and a parent can’t always stop and borrow just the right book at just the right moment. It needs to be sitting on the shelf, beside the bed, or near the couch – to be reached for without thought.
Books speak truth clearly and concisely – especially to children.
A stressed and tired ten-year-old needs to be able to pull an old favourite off the shelf with Happy Third Birthday scrawled in a loved one's hand on the fly-leaf and settle into a simpler time when all felt right with the world.
A child watching the news and feeling anxious needs to be able to pull Let the Celebrations Begin from the shelf and remember that good can come from extraordinary evil and that the personal realm is the most important after all. It won’t do to be lectured on such matters. Strength and comfort need to be retrieved from deep in the soul where they were lodged through repeated story-telling and reading.
An overwhelmed teen needs to be able to pull a worn copy of The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane from the shelf and read familiar words that promise redemption and relief.
A parent, worrying about an early teen who is starting to show signs of self-centred unthinking-ness needs to have a copy of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, or Bridge to Terabithia lurking on the bookshelf – to leave lying around after reading a few chapters out loud.
A home with only adults needs books too – books to casually pull off a shelf to reread just the best bits – books to pull out during a discussion for reference or proof – books to relive life changing moments – books to reaffirm one's deepest beliefs – or to question them.
The internet is, of course, the modern repository of all knowledge, but a book provides a place to scrawl your own disagreements or exclamation marks – to record who you were and what you thought when you read it. And that would just be improper in a library book!
Charles Lamb of Tales from Shakespeare fame wrote that . . .
Indeed. An owned book can have flowers pressed within it’s pages ala Jane Austen and pictures drawn in the margins along with children’s illegal scrawling. And a book that is owned can be lent – the ultimate generosity and sign of faith. If it doesn’t come back – oh, well – at least there is more room on the bookshelf.
Henry Ward Beecher knew whereof he spoke when he said . . .
Still, where better for that weakness to be displayed. And when all is said and done a wall of book spines makes a very nice wallpaper!