I grew up in a little village in the north of the Netherlands, a picturesque Dutch fishermen’s place carrying around 10,000 inhabitants. My grandfather worked on a boat. He went out every day to try and catch some of those slippery sea-animals. My mother, she lived next to the harbor of Medemblik. In her world, memories of salty air, stormy nights, and the sound of the whacking ropes against masts still linger.
I grew up a little more inland, closer to farmland than farmsea. I always liked to play outside, climb trees, and build huts. And thus I was lucky we could call the house on the corner our home, as it had the biggest garden in the street. Our garden had nice patch of grass, some bushes and trees, and always a few cats dozing off, letting their cute little cat-dreams carried off by sunbeams.
I remember one thing in particular. I was around six or seven years old at the time. Not old enough to watch the grown up’s television programs, I was often told to go to bed early. Unable to sleep, I lay there, listening to the organic orchestra of birds, carefree, too young to fully grasp the mortal nature of existence.
The language of the birds put a spell on me. The warm summer breeze was carrying the laughter of playing children. Time slowed down to a halt, seconds stretched into hours, even days. It was if the world was holding its breath. I could not fathom I would ever grow old. It was as if gravity was momentarily suspended. I felt empty, fully there, letting the world flow into every corner of my being.
I don’t think I will ever forget that feeling. Something in me expects I will forget everything but that feeling, that moment, when I die.
Wouldn’t that be nice, that a little slice of (my) awareness is single-pointedly focused on that sliver of time, floating in space-time towards eternity?
I have this same feeling whenever I read books. I would call it otherworldly, this time-suspending power which those scratches and scribbles on dried leaves have. I remember I could still hear the birds, but whenever I opened a book, another voice started to speak. As long as my eyes moved across the paper, the voice was there.
It resembled my own, or so I thought. It told me fantastic stories of time long past; it showed me places unlike I’ve ever seen before; it transmitted knowledge that gave me insights beyond my years. Sometimes it was as if an Animistic spirit took hold of me, spoke through me, and forced me to see things, not letting go of me until I read the last dot.
While my eyes travelled along the rhythm of the black symbols and signs, my mind was carried off in a miraculous way, to a wonderful new world. Is this where the word spellbinding comes from?
I still don’t know the answer to the question of where those worlds are, or how they are able to exist at all. The answer “in your head” feels like an unscientific cop-out to me — I know my own head is way too small for that. To me, those flat sheets of dried leaves with markings are imaginative portals, to different times, different minds, different worlds. It’s when indigenous people see a printed picture for the very first time, they instinctively look behind it, being utterly startled when there is no behind.
I once read that writing a letter or a book is like sending your thoughts to a friend you have not made yet. There is a fondness in that memory, as I know it applies to this very moment you’re reading this. Chances are, I have not met you, nor will I ever. Yet, you’re listening attentively to my most personal ponderings. Thank you.
This particular fondness also stems from knowing my favorite authors were unaware of my existence. Still, they have been more than generous with their teachings. They have created the other side of the portal, allowing me to peek through, collect new ideas, stretch my intelligence, fantasms, and vision.
One could argue that without books, without phonetic language, we would never have been able to transmit the vast amount of accumulated knowledge to future generations. I wouldn’t have been able to write these thoughts and send them out in the world for thousands of people to read, including, of course, you. We would never have been able to stretch our capacity for understanding, to include different cultures, multiple branches of science, and wisdom.
Think how many years of experience, thoughts, mistakes, and ideas are poured into the pages of a book. For thousands of years they have been the best-value products in existence, and they still are.
Oh, the places you’ll go with books! By carrying our senses beyond what is immediately visible, books open up a world which we couldn’t lay our eyes on before, offering us new thoughts to break old rules. If this isn’t magic, what is?
Do you like books as much as I do? Do you spend time and money on self-education? In celebration of World Book Day we have an exciting offer coming up. If you are a book lover or an ardent learner, sign up here: