It is this, I think, that draws us to books in the first place, their nearly magical power to transport us to other landscapes, other lives.**
For most of human history, most people couldn’t read at all. Literacy was not only a demarcator between the powerful and the powerless, it was power itself.^
(Ursula Le Guin)
I have a wall of books, which is surprising, really, because for more than the first half of my life, I read very little. Really, I need two walls, but there’s no space, so the one will have to do while every so often I will let some books go.
They are simply arranged, by the author’s last names. I like to see the unlikely rubbings of shoulders: Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi with Roald Dahl, Italo Calvino with Joseph Campbell. What would they talk about together if they were sipping coffee together for an hour?
Through my journaling, I eavesdrop on my current reads: Alain de Botton and Robert Macfarlane, Rainer Maria Rilke and Tom Hodgkinson. Who knows what they might end up talking about.
It feels as though reading books and walking various terrains have a lot in common – I’m wandering through text-terrains, picking up and pocketing things as I go.
Miguel Angel Blanco has created a library far larger and more unusual than mine, the Library of the Forest – La Biblioteca del Bosque. Bound in a rich variety of colours, the spines contain no title; each being individually boxed, they contain only a few pages of handwritten pages of text and the remainder of the book is a reliquary for items gathered and recording Blanco’s many pilgrimage walks – seaweed, flints, the wing of a bird, thorns, timber scorched by lightning, resin, pottery … .
I am intrigued by this library:
Choose three books from the library, The first tells you of your past, the next shows your present and the last will see your future.^^
Blanco’s wife Elena adds:
the books will choose you, not the other way round*^
How can this be?
I imagine each book to be a koan, jerking their chosen recipient out of their predictable path into pilgrimage – the pilgrim walks both an exterior and interior path.
I find myself exploring where ways and words connect. My journal and pen and books and wander make it possible to take a pilgrimage walk through words and images, joining inner and outer worlds, and Blanco is quite right when he claims:
To walk is to gather treasure.^^
Try reading several books alongside each other; you herbert know what’s around the next corner.
(*Vaclev Cilek, quoted in Robert Macfarlane’s The Old Ways.)
(**From David Ulin’s The Lost Art of Reading.)
(^From Ursula Le Guin’s Words Are My Matter.)
(^^Miguel Angel Blanco, quoted in Robert Macfarlane’s The Old Ways.)
(*^Elena Blanco, quoted in Robert Macfarlane’s The Old Ways.)