For the Love of Words by Andy Lee
Updated: Mar 19, 2019
Words have power; they spark imagination, inform, inspire, and their application is both indulgence and sacrifice. Words are mysterious and alluring to we who hear and respond to their call. Some may roll away like raindrops on a hillside, while a few stick like burrs, and others inspire us to be more, to dream and work and build and hope. Words make us human, they keep us sane, and drive us crazy. There's no explaining our attraction to or repulsion of these little colloquial molecules. One thing I know is that sharing words is one of the most human things of all.
There is no aesthetic absolute, as John Gardner points out early in The Art of Fiction (1983), and yet we often agree when something is well (or poorly) done. We collect tomes and scripts because they offer something unique, useful, and divine. The congregation of books into libraries, starting in the Fertile Crescent as early as 3000 BC, has always been to help people organize themselves, their ideas as well as the world around them.
In The Library Book (2018) Susan Orlean brings to the table not just the history of the LA Library and the awful fire that burned and damaged so many thousands of books, but the adaptation and renewal of libraries and their relevance in the 21st Century. Libraries hold special meaning to many people. I remember the children's library in my hometown with both fondness and fear - those librarians could be fiercely protective of their paper charges. The implications of libraries not adapting are severe, and the opportunities afforded to communities (not just in the items and services added to libraries, but in keeping libraries open and relevant to their communities) is tremendous, can not be understated! Reading staves off mental fatigue and loss of faculty (https://www.alzinfo.org/articles/reading-alzheimers-bay/), and libraries are gathering places for personal thought and social contact. They bring the world in close for everyone in the community, regardless of ability, skill, or interest. They are places of sharing and learning, places simultaneously sacred and profane, in other words, entirely human.
In addition to libraries, bookstores offer readers (and by extension writers) a home away from home, and a dormitory for millions, hundreds of millions of characters, ideas, and opinions. One beautiful book, Footnotes* From The Worlds Greatest Bookstores (Bob Eckstein 2016), gives readers insights from bookstore proprietors around the world. From Tokyo to SF, Buenos Aires to Nebraska and the many (many) NYC bookshops, we are offered glimpses into these magical realms where incredible things happen, where people grow. Across the globe, bookshops variously offer coffee bars, gaming, alcohol, tea and cake, internet, open mics, publishing services, child minding, sleeping nooks and accommodation. One bookstore in Venice Italy houses their books in boats and bathtubs to protect them from flooding, another in New Zealand houses more than a million Fantasy and Sci. Fi. titles in a shipping container! Whether in Paris or Cairo, bookstores offer refuge to readers and writers, though somewhat differently in nature. For the reader, the sanctuary of books that can be owned, read and reread, shared, and horded is part of our need (very human) to be mentally grounded and to find commonality. For the writer, of course, there is opportunity, but these incredible shops also offer a sense of security, of belonging to a tribe of wordsmiths.
Writing offers whatever you have to the world - imagination, fact, depth of emotion, love of sport or dogs or trees or romance or architecture. There is no topic too big or too small; you the writer will find a reader who falls deeply in love with your thoughts as surely as a burr will stick to the underbelly of a dog. Sometimes your words hit a home run, sometimes they just barely make it to first base, but always, always the effort is worth pursuing. For the love of words we keep reading and writing, because we are human and it is in our nature to love things that both make us richer and drive us a little crazy. Words are synchronously hedonic and sacrificial, improving oneself and the world with a single swish of the syllabic sword.