Why I'm grateful for the books in my life
They're my teachers, they're my friends. They transport me back in time. And they make great gifts.
Many people and things come to mind when I reflect on what I’m thankful for. Thankful for my family, who make me feel whole and give me a reason to look forward to tomorrow. Thankful for a job that lets me put my skills as a writer and content creator to good use. Thankful that Taiwan finally dropped its inbound quarantine from 14 days to zero, enabling us to travel abroad again after nearly three years on the ground.
I’m also thankful for something that has been utterly central to my life and career. I’m thankful for a silent, solitary, inanimate object that, ironically, has the power to communicate directly and telepathically with my mind, sway my emotions, and inspire my soul. I’m thankful for books.
Here are a few reasons why:
They let me travel through time.
I’ve always wanted to travel back in time to see and maybe even meet the thinkers who changed the world through their ideas. Physically impossible, yes, but possible in another way.
The astronomer and author Carl Sagan perfectly summed up the power of books to transport us across time and communicate with the great thinkers of the millennia in Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, the legendary television series he co-wrote with his wife Ann Druyan, and presented more than 40 years ago:
A book is made from a tree. It is an assemblage of flat, flexible parts (still called ‘leaves’) imprinted with dark pigmented squiggles. One glance at it and you hear the voice of another person — perhaps someone dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, the author is speaking, clearly and silently, inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people, citizens of distant epochs, who never knew one another. Books break the shackles of time, proof that humans can work magic.
Books work their magic on me in a number of other ways:
They’re my best teachers.
I had many teachers during my days in school, a handful of whom I recall were especially good at their craft, and an even smaller number of whom were inspiring.
But it was the books I bought or borrowed which taught me what I needed to learn. For nearly my entire academic career I had only hard and softcover books to turn to, as the Internet and the first browser had not been developed yet.
And even after I had graduated and entered the working world, I continued to rely on books to educate myself. During the dotcom boom-bust of the late 90s and early 2000s that saw the first wave of internet-powered startups rise and fall, I taught myself web design and coding.
In the first decade of the 2000s, I devoured books on the craft of writing, and in the process, honed my writing and editing skills, skills that I applied directly to my day job, and which to this day help me earn a living. These same skills enabled me to write articles on LinkedIn, starting back in early 2014, about topics I was passionate about, building a substantial following and a few friendships along the way.
And while most of the books I’ve read over the past several years have been non-fiction, I have enjoyed my share of novels which spoke intimately to me, which made me see and understand things about the world and myself I had never been conscious of before. Novels which inspired me to change. Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantkakis, The Glass Bead Game by Hermann Hesse, and Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, are just a handful of titles that come to mind.
They make meaningful gifts.
I missed watching Carl Sagan’s Cosmos when it first aired on public TV in 1980, but my mother bought me the book, which was based on the series, as a holiday gift. I remember poring over it on the school bus, and cracking it open while sitting on the bleachers of our basketball court at school during PE class. It was a large and weighty hardback tome packed with beautiful color photos and illustrations which I somehow managed to lug around until I finished it.
Iceland is well ahead of other civilizations in the way it has elevated the gifting of books into a Christmas tradition. Between September and November, publishers launch a book publishing tsunami known as the Jolabokaflod, which in English translates roughly into the “Christmas Book Flood.” On Christmas eve, Icelanders exchange books as gifts and then spend the night reading them, often while drinking hot chocolate or alcohol-free Christmas ale called jólabland.
It’s a beautiful custom that also sends a clear anti-consumerist message to the rest of the world (if anyone cares to listen).
Gifting books at work, whether for colleagues or clients, is a powerful way to share ideas and cement relationships. A dozen years ago, at a farewell dinner hosted by our former regional head before he moved from Shanghai back to his home country, he gave everyone a unique gift that reflected something about their interests, background, or personality. For me, he gifted a biography of Shakespeare, in recognition of my passion for writing and editing, and my contributions to our firm through that skill. It was by far one of the most thoughtful and meaningful gifts I’ve ever received (and it was a very good read as well).
They’re my friends.
Books speak the truth to me like no person can. Books read my mind and reflect my thoughts back to me in an ordered and articulate way. Books listen quietly to me, like my therapist who patiently hears me spill my guts for an hour and is sworn to protecting my privacy.
Books are there for me, and have always been there for me, through the years. Books silently and non-judgmentally bear witness to my joys and my tribulations.
I’m loathe to throw away books. Even if I’ve never read it, and don’t even plan to read it, I feel like I would be destroying a living creature if I were to get rid of one. There are voices inside the cover — I’m pretty sure I can hear them — voices that represent what was once a living human being.
Contrary to that popular admonition, I like to judge books by their covers. I just enjoy looking at the artfully designed covers as they rest on one of my bookshelves or sit stacked (or strewn) on the floor of my room. While it may be the only illustration in the entire book, the cover art encapsulates the contents inside. For someone like myself who doesn’t collect art, book covers are my art collection.
Those are some of the reasons I love books, both the print and digital kind, and why I’m thankful for them.
How do you feel about books? And what are you grateful for? Please share your thoughts in the comments.
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