Last week I stumbled into a very large used book sale. It was set up at an old Border's bookshop, a huge building that has not yet found a new tenant. For the past couple of weeks, this empty store has been filled with tables and and unimaginable number of cheap books. Former bestsellers. Novels. Books on prayer (there was a very large religion section). Cookbooks. Self-help. History. You name it. Most of the books were fairly recent titles, but there were a few of the older and most interesting vintage editions scattered about as well.
Once in awhile I will go into an antique store that has a large book section, and be overwhelmed with the number of old books, most of them old books that I have (often) never heard of before. A few may have enjoyed a brief celebrity; most of them were deeply obscure to me.
There are so many books in the world.
I didn't grow up around a lot of books. At least, there weren't a lot of books in our house. There were a couple of Bibles, a couple of books of Fairy Tales, a few little golden books. It's not that my parents didn't value reading: we went to the library a lot; we just didn't own most of the books.
The library then was an amazing place to me. There were so many books, so many stories, and I wanted to write them too. I wanted to write stories like the ones about Betsy and Tacy, or the ones about Jo and Meg and Beth and Amy. I wanted to write stories like the ones about Pippi and the Moffats and the Nancy Drew.
I always thought it was the stories, or the words, or the knowledge that attracted me. That's why I liked books so much. I liked the infinity of what you could discover inside a book. I liked the worlds that opened when you opened the covers. I liked the sentences that piled up, one after another.
But, as it turns out, it's more complicated than that.
I spent last Wednesday evening making books: small books, it's true, but making small blank books out of paper and waxed thread. I simply folded and poked holes and stitched together simple covers and pages. I used simple tools: an awl, a needle, a bone folder, and paper. I learned that books had a head and a tail, a signature or a section, leaves and volumes. I learned a pamphlet stitch and a Japanese stitch.
I loved making books.
I always thought it was the contents that I loved: the stories, the sentences, the knowledge, the images. But I loved the covers and the spine, the stitches and the thread, the paper and the feel of everything in my hand. I imagined how the structure of the book and the contents are inextricably connected. For example, the simple folded book that folds out like an accordion: that should be a story about a journey, perhaps, or a treasure map.
As it turns out, I love the whole book: body, soul and spirit: the weight of it in my hand, the stitches, the paper, the words and sentences too.
Body soul and spirit, it is all art. We are not containers; we are whole and holy, stitched together with care, every single last atom of us.