In honor of the first Establishment of the House of Learning Festival, I offer the following passages that speak to my personal feeling towards books and learning:
There is no Frigate like a Book
To take us Lands away,
Nor any Coursers like a Page
Of prancing Poetry –
This Traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of Toll –
How frugal is the Chariot
That bears a Human soul. – Emily Dickinson
When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes. – Desiderius Erasmus
There are books, that one has for twenty years without reading them, that one always keeps at hand, that one takes along from city to city, from country to country, carefully packed, even when there is very little room, and perhaps one leafs through them while removing them from a trunk; yet one carefully refrains from reading even a complete sentence. Then after twenty years, there comes a moment when suddenly, as though under a high compulsion, one cannot help taking in such a book from beginning to end, at one sitting: it is like a revelation. Now one knows why one made such a fuss about it. It had to be with one for a long time; it had to travel; it had to occupy space; it had to be a burden; and now it has reached the goal of its voyage, now it reveals itself, now it illuminates the twenty bygone years it mutely lived with one. It could not say so much if it had not been there mutely the whole time, and what idiot would dare to assert that the same things had always been in it. – Elias Canetti
And finally, one must consider how great the ease of learning there is in books, how yielding, how trusty ! How safely we reveal, without shyness, in the face of our books the poverty of our human ignorance ! They are teachers who instruct us without switches or rods, without slaps or anger, without notice of rags or riches. If you approach them , they are not asleep; If you ask a question, they do not hide; They do not mutter at you if you make a mistake; When you are ignorant, they do not know how to laugh at you. – Richard de Bury
And, finally, the opening of one of my very favorite fantasy novels (and so far the only book that, as soon as we had finished reading it, my daughter immediately made me go back and start over) – Roderick Townley’s The Great Good Thing.
Sylvie had an amazing life, but she didn’t get to live it very often. What good were potions and disguises if no one came along to scare you or save you or kiss you behind the waterfall? Week after week nothing changed. Years went by. The sparkles on Sylvie’s dress began to fade, and a fine dust coated the leaves, turning the green woods gray.
Once in a while, it looked as though something might happen. The ground trembled slightly, then nothing more. People got used to these disturbances. King Walther scarcely noticed. He sat about playing cards with the goatherd. Even the wolves stopped lurking and just lay in the heat, panting like house dogs. It got so that one day Sylvie sat down on a stone at the edge of the lake and wept.
“Come on,” she whispered fiercely. “Come on! Something happen!”
At that moment, a fan of light began opening in a corner of the sky, sending flashes of color across the water. Sylvie wiped her eyes as the woods brightened. A breeze flew through the treetops, knocking against branches as it went.
“Rawwwwk! Reader! Reader!” cried an orange bird, bursting into the air.
“Booook open!” groaned a bullfrog. “Ooopen! Boook open!”