I skipped last Thanksgiving but thought this year I’d address the holiday again and think about what there was, for me, to be thankful for in 2019. This was another year of ups and downs, like literally every year of my entire life—who has only ups? Only downs? And though it started on a bit of a shaky footing it ended well enough for me. Surgery in September did away with the chronic pain that had taken a much greater toll on me over the past few years than I had even realized. Thankful for that, for sure. The $4000+ in bills (so far) that soon followed, not so much. But I can be thankful that a couple of presidential candidates (Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, in case you’re that out of it) are at least talking about fixing the ever-unfolding horror of the American for-profit healthcare “system”—so maybe we’ll have even more to be thankful for next year.
But let’s set all that aside: politics, my health, and all that.
This year I’d like to focus on one thing, and it’s a thing I’ve been thankful for every year—every day, even—for as long as I can remember.
I am thankful for books.
I’ve advised authors that, in the twenty-first century, we should think of ourselves as “content providers” and let the technology publishers and readers adopt to access that content sort itself out. I stand behind that. If you like ebooks and read ebooks you’re a reader. If you like audio books and listen to audio books, we’ll be friends for life.
But for me there’s nothing like the book as a physical artifact.
The content might be the same, at least from paper book to ebook, but the feeling of the paper, the pages themselves, the cover, the act of flipping through actual, not simulated pages, and the smell… oh my God, the smell… of a printed paper book is just Heaven to me.
And I don’t believe in Heaven, in the religious sense, as a place someone let’s you into only if you’ve followed their rules.
Heaven is something we have to find on our own, and I find mine in books.
I write books, I edit books, and even before I was literate I read books. I also buy and collect books. I once told a writing conference crowd that when it comes to buying books I basically run a no-kill book shelter. I can’t pass by discount “last chance” books in a super market or other unlikely venue. If there’s a book for sale for 99¢ I buy it. I just… buy it. What will happen to it if I don’t? Will it be thrown away?!
No, you do not throw that away. I’ll take it. I’ll protect it. I’ll keep it safe.
An entire wall of my living room is filled with shelves full of books. An entire wall of my office is filled with shelves full of books. A box next to my desk is full of books. In my closet is a box marked “Overflow Books” that is—that’s right, you guessed it—full of books.
Books contain entire universes. Books contain facts. Books contain detailed messages from the distant past. Books contain the lives of people I will never meet “in real life” but thanks to their books I know better than members of my own family. Books contain truth and lies and information and misinformation and tall tales and crimes and pleasures and imagination, made real by combinations of twenty-six characters, chosen with great care by someone who might have died two thousand years ago or may be alive and well and living only a few miles away.
And then there’s the smell. Have I mentioned the smell?
The smell of old books is my favorite smell in the world.
I’ve managed to build my entire life around books. This wasn’t an accident. It wasn’t the family business I inherited. It wasn’t forced upon me by some committee of the International Soviet. I might even have given up things for books. I might have gotten rich, fast, if I could stomach the concept of selling stocks or real estate. Instead, I went with books. Always books. Forever books. And I never looked back and I never will.
So, in honor of Thanksgiving, 2019, I’d like to say thank you to books, and everyone who’s ever written one, edited one, published one, designed and typeset one, sold one, shelved one in a library, recorded an audio book of one, bought one, read one, gave or received one as a gift, or otherwise helped bring a book into the world and into my hands.
It’s all about the books.
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