I love that moment when you pick up a book and think I can’t wait to read this. The power of the mighty algorithm can’t beat that sense of discovery, the feeling that you found that book because something about it appeals to you today—not because something similar is in your search history. I’ve recently been in two bookstores, a Barnes & Noble and an independent bookshop, so I just brought home more new books than I have shelf-space for, and more than I have time to read. (I never learn…) It’s made me think about the magic of picking a book to read.
Bookshelves are where we find mirrors of the mind, reflecting our thoughts and moods. What catches our attention in a given moment? In bookstores and libraries, the bookshelves also show us the current trends and topics, so maybe that’s like a hall of mirrors: you are seeing your own interests, but it’s hard to distinguish them from the reflection of your surroundings.
At home, especially for those of us with collections built over time, the bookshelf is a portrait and a diary as well as a mirror. The books from different eras of life are the diary; the books we choose to keep create the portrait. As for the mirror, well, more than once I’ve browsed at home, picked up a book I acquired years ago that has been patiently waiting, and found it to be astonishingly relevant for the present. On the flip side, sometimes I’ve tried rereading something I remember loving, only to find that doesn’t speak to me anymore. (Crime and Punishment, I’m looking at you.)
It’s marvelous, isn’t it? The written words don’t change, but each mind that encounters them finds something different. Different themes surface, different meanings, discovered by that mind in that moment. And that’s true whether it’s the most erudite nonfiction, most profound literature, or most gripping adventure—it’s a different book for every reader. Something meaningful can emerge from any book depending on the reader’s moment.
So I’ve been thinking about the joy of reading at the same time I’m settling into writing my new story. It’s fun to think that someday, someone may pick one of my books from the shelf at the right time, and find something of themselves in my words. I’m not sure what else in my life has ever been as much of a thrill as being part of this magic.