Every book has a story, but it’s not always just the one contained inside its pages. This book, while relatively unremarkable, is a reminder to me of the value of ideas, and the great fear I have that someday, people will no longer value imagination, knowledge and fiction.
I was young at the time of this story as I remember it, perhaps eleven or twelve. I was a good child, an excellent student, a voracious reader, quiet and reserved. It was rare that I ever had the courage to speak up, having been taught that the best thing to do in life in the face of constant bullying was to keep as quiet as possible and hope that nobody would notice me. Not only to ignore the cruel words of others, but to be ignored, to hide in the shadows and simply not exist. I was also to do exactly as I was told, because people older than me knew exactly what they were doing at all times.
It was on some unremarkable summer afternoon that I was asked with a friend if we would take some books to the dumpster. It was, they explained, to get rid of books that were no longer checked out of the school library. Books that were old. Books that were no longer wanted. My heart was heavy, perhaps because I had loved books so much, the escape that was in those pages helping me to flee the powerlessness of my childhood. With books I could escape to a place where I was somebody who could make choices and life decisions of my own in order to do something valuable or worthwhile for the world. I was remarkable. I was incredible. I was alive.
However, I did not question. I took the first armful of books out to the dumpster and dropped them in. One fell open, I remember, it was a sports story about a girl playing hockey. I tried not to hurt that these ideas were being confined to their destruction, but it didn’t sit right with me. When I returned to the pile of books marked for refuse, I saw the pictured book look up at me.
If I loved books, I absolutely adored fantasy and science fiction. I simply could not get enough of it, so to see such a book marked for death really hit me deep inside. So I summoned all the courage I had and I asked with my timid little voice if perhaps I could take these books home where they would be wanted.
They had no problem with it, and I took home literally every single book I could manage to carry. I didn’t care if I would read them or not, I just knew I had to save them, to keep as many of those books from the wicked dumpster as possible. Any man can destroy a thing, but it is a whole other skill to create something, to breathe life into a story, give it words and put it into print. Even as a child I knew this to be true.
Over the years, the books were given away to charities and friends. This is the only one that remains in my possession. I kept it when I moved to a whole new country because to me, it’s a reminder. A reminder of what happens when people no longer want to read. It’s the harbinger of a present time where libraries have their funding cut, where imagination is not encouraged, where facts themselves are distorted and fed to children as truth, where intelligence is derided as something to be ashamed of, rather than celebrated.
I recently had somebody tell me that reading is so boring it sends them to sleep. Such a thought is so alien to me when every word lights up a picture like a movie in my head, except this movie shifts and changes, each and every frame mine and mine alone, a product of the reader as much as the writer. I have seen fantastic worlds, I have been and witnessed incredible people both courageous and terrible, I have felt things that I would never be able to feel in this mundane, every day world and I am grateful for every hour those writers have given to me.
It scares me, as a reader, a writer and mostly as a human being that we live in an age where people are not encouraged to dream, learn or explore. It bothers me when jingoistic people from all nations rise up and proclaim themselves the best while at the same time cutting the throat of education programs that put facts, creativity and a love of learning at their core. Teach a man a love of learning and he will teach himself for a lifetime, as I have done, long after school is but a distant memory for me.
I often dream of fire, the representation of destruction. I dream of fire burning and melting all the things that I love and I wake in a puddle of sweat, take a shower, and write. Creation is the anathema to destruction and even if there comes a time when there is no longer a reader left in this world, I will still continue to write and to dream.
It’s the only rebellion I have against those whose only desire is to destroy.