Tuesday, 19 May 2015

The Universe in a Book

Sometimes it’s hard for me to put into words the reason why words have changed me. Luckily, I’ve found someone who was able to do just that. 

One of the most imaginative, thoughtful, clever, and just plain magical books I’ve ever read was The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne Valente (which, if you haven’t read, stop what you’re doing and read this right now—the book is available here, and the audiobook here). Her follow-up book in this series, The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There, was just as good (available here and here). 

It was at the very end of this second book that Catherynne managed to capture why books can be so life-changing. She gives three reasons, the first of which I’ll quote below (stay tuned for the next two): 

One: A Book Is A Universe and the Universe is a Book. Inside a book, any Physicks or Magical Laws or Manners or Histories may hold sway. A book is its own universe and while in it, you must play by their rules…This is why sometimes, when you finish a book, you feel strange and woozy, as though you have just woken up. Your body is getting used to the rules of your own universe again. And your own universe is just the biggest and longest and most complicated book ever written—except for all the other ones. This is also why books along the walls make any place feel different—all those universes, crammed into one spot!

I always get excited when I walk into a room full of books—be it a bookstore, a library, or my own living room—and Catherynne helped me to understand why. Rows upon rows or worlds, stacked back-to-back, are just waiting for us to enter them and to be changed by them. 

Jesus College Fellow's Library, Oxford

Stay tuned for more…

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