First there were books, and there wasn’t much of them. What there were around the house weren’t really book books, but closed books tight as clamshells. They posed no danger, entailed no risks. I was forbidden to touch the books because they were not of my age, besides I couldn’t read and so I longed for them without knowing what they were.
The world around my growing eyes was strange and horrible. Faces long and white mouthed vowels and consonants as unceremonious as apes in a photo I saw in National Geographic. It was Jane Goodall in the bush.
National Geographic was the first real encounter I had with words. It was to be an annual gift from a second uncle. Every month the new issue would come, and I was brought from the horrors of my house to an infinite world, to space and back, across wilds and valleys, through caverns and traversing glacial cities of blue ice. There were no longer just the aping white faces, but those of color that were otherwise blocked from me in the xenophobic rage of my immediate world.
Books, I learned, took me away and into the agency of imagination, as deep as Alice’s rabbit hole, as wide as the swathes of English countryside I longed to go to in Richard Adams’s Watership Down.
What supplicating gesture I felt; fingers caressed yellowing leaves, tracing a river of black-inked words from the page into the mind, radiating a super nova of intelligence, splashing like a dream into a tired brain wearied of living.
Words trained my mind. They gave me reprieve. Books nurture me through the daily wound of living. They lead me through a world without reason. They teach the untaught, beckoning me to continue bridging chaos to order, darkness to light, a flight to fury.
The fury to fight back dumb aping mouths, to smear away visions of white streaking light dropping like clods the terrible blue madness.
The sword of might is lifted, a shining blade slices through savage arcs of sunlight. Beams of genius tutors the dumb to bellow hollow words.
Read, I say, put the rest down.