Spirit Quest


War on the spirit of books

By The Rev. Dr. Hanns F. Skoutajan
True North Perspective 

Is there a war on against book stores, the independent ones, that is? There have been numerous casualties in my town, Ottawa, that I really regret. Nicholas Hoar, a truly beautiful literature emporium opposite the National Gallery in Ottawa, is one of them. We particularly enjoyed their childrens' section.  I also loved the cat that roamed those premises. Years ago I had occasion to celebrate a wedding in front of their  beautiful fireplace.

I love book stores, independent sellers that are not part of a chain. The book store that I frequent is a cozy place next to a coffee shop. I enjoy visiting them both, usually in tandem.

I am amazed at the quantity of books available, lining the walls and piled on tables, fiction and non fiction and everything in between, hard covered  and paperbacks, coffee table picture books and children’s literature.

There are a couple of of comfortable chairs where I can sit and peruse the wares or chat with the staff or other shoppers. That word “shoppers”  doesn’t do justice to people who buy books. The people I meet at the store generally have a craving  for the written word, ideas expressed between covers, of history or sheer flights of imagination. I never cease to be amazed by the plethora of writings available and each time I visit there is a new crop on the table giving me the eye.

I am a slow reader. I know I could read faster, indeed, a few years ago I took a course in speed reading but I didn’t  enjoy zooming through pages of print. I want to saver word creations. Often when I really enjoy a book I mentally say the words in order to give full value to the author’s choice of verbal expression. Having indulged in writing, an activity that I enjoy as much as reading, I am well aware of the care that goes into selecting the right word that, like a jigsaw puzzle, just fits into the picture.

As a child I was surrounded by books. Both my parents loved to read. In our parlour there was a very large book case, made of some dark wood, like mahogany, with glass doors. Dust covers were not usual in those days and beautiful bindings embossed with gold letters gleamed and beckoned. The case was two books deep so that there was more magic hidden behind the first row.

That parlour was almost a sacred place. My parents insisted that I wash my hands before touching those volumes. The thought of underlining or dog-earing would not have crossed my mind.  The knowledge that Nazi thugs raided those shelves and tossed them in a pyre still makes me shudder.

Most of our library was lost except what some of my relatives gleaned from what remained. But once reestablished in a new land my book collecting recommenced. When my parents died I inherited much of their library. Today there isn’t a room in our home that doesn’t contain books. Fortunately or unfortunately my spouse more than matches my hunger for the written word. While I do much reading on my computer she cannot be weaned from clutching the real McCoy. With a reading speed that  outpaces mine she manages to devour them voraciously and buys some more.

I believe that there is something spiritual about books, not just religious works, but all stories and ideas that have emanated  from the minds of thinking people. Humans are  spiritual beings and when we take time to think deeply that spirit comes alive in words.

We may not agree with certain authors. Their ideas and styles may seem quite alien to us, indeed there is much on those store shelves that I might consider trash, hardly worthy of the rubric “literature.”

In my high school days I argued with my teacher who maintained that one does not have to dive in dumpsters for reading material. I prefer to think of the writer sitting at a desk or computer, and some still with pen and paper, as he or she delves into their inner treasure house. Many, many, I ignore. Being a plodding reader I have to make sure that the friends with which I shall spend hours are worth my while.

There is a good reason why dictators ransack libraries. Books influence the mind and challenge accepted norms and ideals.  Centuries ago the Bible had that influence. It was the invention of the printing press that opened the Word to people and caused reformations. The printed word still has that power. May it continue to do so in this age of noisy greed. When our government starts to close libraries and restrict people from meeting at the National Library and Archives and justifies it with lame excuses about needing meeting space, look out!  The Library and Archives belongs to the people of Canada not to the Harper Party or Parliament. Each book published in Canada is located there. Dare we contemplate the censorship of books or just making it more difficult to publish?

As you pass the book-laden windows know that this is holy ground, a place that disseminates ideas. Pause, go in and risk a confrontation with the written word. It might transform you.

There is a Spirit alive in books that seeks to indwell us.

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