“What we become depends on what we read after all of the professors have finished with us. The greatest university of all is a collection of books.”
– Thomas Carlyle
Books and their relationship to people have been on my mind a lot in the last few hours. I’m consumed with these thoughts, and the only way to free my mind is to type them all out. I’ll get to my feelings on this quote specifically in a moment, but first we have to take a little trip down story lane.
It all started when my daughter (she’ll be two in a few weeks) pointed at a picture of someone and said, “crying.” This has been a theme with her. It’s no exaggeration to say that she is obsessed with the idea of crying. Every time she hears it she perks up and talks about it excitedly. Even when she herself is upset and crying due to hurt feelings or bruised body parts, she says, “I like crying.” She thinks every picture has someone or something crying in it, and she likes crying no matter who is doing the crying and no matter the reason. It’s her passion, I suppose.
Tonight, just before dinner, she mentioned crying again. I turned to my wife and said, “If I ever wrote a book about our daughter’s life, it would be titled, The Whole World is Crying.” My wife laughed, because there really isn’t a better way to sum up the oddly sadistic, slightly hidden side of her character.
We went on to joke a little about what we would title the book about our rambunctious six-year-old. I think I liked, I’m Not Bouncing Off the Walls, They’re Bouncing Off Me” best. The conversation went into remission at that point, but the idea ran wild in my head.
I brought the topic back up later after the books and people comparison had been swirling around in my brain for a while. You see, I’ve always been somewhat fond the idea of people as books, and of the “don’t judge a book by its cover” axiom. This fondness probably stems from my ability to make accurate predictions of traits a person possesses based on my initial observation of their outward appearance and behaviors. Essentially, I view people as books, and I do indeed judge them (initially, at least) by their covers.
However, when I began to wonder about what title I would give to a book about my wife, I couldn’t come up with just one. In fact, I came up with two (off the top of my head).
My wife and I have this running joke that she’s a very intelligent individual, but her communication skills are surprisingly poor at times. I once offered in jest that English must not be her first language, which, in reality, couldn’t be further from the truth. Also, she’s endlessly fascinated with different cultures, social behaviors and world politics, so I titled one of her books, I Love Your Country but I Don’t Speak the Language.
I titled her other hypothetical book, Ear to the Ground with My Eyes Shut. She’s like an old Indian tracker with her ear to the ground listening, able to tell that there are exactly three hundred men, fast approaching, some on horseback, accompanied by one hundred members of her own tribe. However, if she’d open her eyes and look out at the horizon, she’d realize that it’s actually a war, and if she doesn’t move soon, the whole battle will be right on top of her. She might not feel entirely flattered by the idea, but she knows it’s the truth, and it’s one of many things that I love about her.
Its obvious that adults cannot be summed up in the title of just one book. Adults represent a collection of books.
As I transitioned from thinking of book titles to sum up the people in my life to the next phase of my train of thought, this quote about books making up who we are entered my mind. To me, this quote is beautiful because I love to read and learn from the wonderful treasures of knowledge that are stored up in books. My formal education feels petty in comparison to the vast hordes of knowledge I’ve amassed from reading good books. It’s striking to me that, apart from my family relationships and friendships, the only thing I’ve acquired on earth that is of any value to me is my knowledge (something I’ve been well aware of in principle my whole life, but it never really “hit” me in this context).
So books take on this whole new level of meaning in the grand scheme of humanity and life, and my train of thought continued to…
I realized that chewing gum is the most pointless creation ever devised by man, and we’d be a lot better off if it were abolished from the face of the planet. That’s a discussion for another day, though.
Wouldn’t it be beautiful, I decided, if a memorial bookshelf were erected in my honor when I parted this world? It could be filled with all of my favorite books according to a list I maintained while alive. Then, when a friend or family member visited the bookshelf, I could continue to offer them wisdom and knowledge from my favorite volumes. Heck, I could even throw some fiction in there to entertain them. And with my ambitions to write, my memorial bookshelf could feature an entire section of books authored by myself.
The idea warmed my heart.
Then it went a step further. Families could own and maintain a family library. It would be a place to erect these memorial bookshelves. Then you’d have one place to go that would be filled with rows and rows of the books that your fathers and grandfathers loved.
In fact, right now I’m pondering the prospect of sending an email to all of my family members asking them to include a list of about two dozen of their their favorite books in their wills. When they die, I could build beautiful, handcrafted bookshelves in their honor (or find suitable shelves on eBay and have the loved-one’s name engraved on them), and fill them with the books that they loved. Then, when I am wealthy, I could buy a plot of land, build a library, and call it the Haddad Memorial Library. I could appoint a board (similar to a board of trustees) to be caretakers to the library, and charge them with doing everything it takes to ensure the library’s continuous maintenance and operation for all of eternity.
What a legacy that would be! I’m afraid I’m just being fanciful and romantic though. In today’s world it would never catch on.
While my ideas may not catch on, I do feel that I’ve brought up some thought provoking questions that you should ask yourself.
First, if what we become depends on what we read, what are you becoming?
Second, if a book were written about your life, what title could it be given that would offer an at-a-glance look into your personality? If you come up with something witty, intense, horrific, humorous or average, I’d like to hear it! Please leave your book title in the comments (I won’t steal it, I promise).
Finally, if a memorial bookshelf were to be erected for you tomorrow, what books would you want on its shelves?