I love books. I love their calm company.
You can revisit a book any time you wish and, without pang of inadequacy, resume where you left off. I love the ordered symmetry of their spines on my bookshelf. I love the privacy of their hallucinations. I love the feel of the page, the coarseness between your thumb and forefinger as you drag it across like a stage curtain to reveal a fresh column of words.
I love the feel of snapping a book shut after reading its parting sentence, the audible thwop signalling both a physical and mental closure, conflict resolved, a storm of dramatic tension stilled by the very person who whipped up its gale in the first place. I willingly suffered the fuming of a college girlfriend who’d been away all summer, only to return and knock on my apartment door as I was two pages shy of finishing John Irving’s A Prayer For Owen Meany. My desperation to achieve the closure of that final sentence caused me to leave her standing waiting for a homecoming hug while I apologised and read to the end. Putting the ‘me’ in meany, I suppose.
During high school I became obsessed with the author Michael Crichton after a friend loaned me his copy of Jurassic Park. After finishing it I headed to the local library and checked out as much of his back catalogue as I could find in stock. I navigated the bustling hallways of my high school with a newly developed sonar sense, holding my book in front of me while I strolled between classes, head bowed over its pages like a monk pacing monastery grounds in silent meditation. I read during school assemblies. I read during class downtime. I read during lunch while my friends socialised around me.
Books allow us a fantasy of structural perfection. The simple fact that the same words, in the same order, greet you on every visit gives them a sturdiness and dependability I’ve always struggled to find outside literature. The same yesterday, today and forever. So much of this life is liquid. Your most devoted friend today might not make much of your existence next week, but a book, in principle, never changes its story.
Is it any wonder that evangelicals place such an emphasis on the inerrancy of scripture and balk at any discussion of its compositional drift over time, the scribal revisions vying for transcription into the next generation? Evolution is a dirty word in evangelical subculture. If the mooring of bedrock is what you crave, you must cling to a belief that your holy book is divinely revealed (perfect at inception) and has maintained that integrity over time (perfect in continuity). Our distant ancestors may have emerged from the sea, but we’ve lost our ability to cope with such boundlessness. Seasickness intrudes. We demand solid footing. For many, the notion of an unchanging God, an unchanging book, an unchanging moral rubric, offers a steadying counterweight.
Though post-evangelical today I remain just as subject to this craving. The memoir as a literary form represents its own quest for grounding. Emotions feel so swampy and indistinct in your head but once you write something down, no matter how ineloquently, the ideas crystallise, assume a concrete form on the page. The sea waves of one’s inward experience turn dense enough to walk upon. The chaos of my life, that string of random occurrences, I can force it all into the mold of a story. I can manufacture the illusion that every one of my life experiences, traumas and pleasures alike, were sublimely authored and fit together into a predestined narrative, a perfect storm, a wonderful plan for my life.
The clutter of one’s life story can be tidied away by the writer’s rotating and placement of language, one word, after another, after another.