Today I'm going to maunder on a bit about a thought that occurred to me as I polished off the latest mystery on my "to read" stack.
It's not simply that it was a good mystery (it was). What struck me was the physical history of the book. You see, I bought it for a mere 99p (about $2) at the Oxfam used bookstore in downtown Hastings (just about my favourite shopping destination in Hastings, not that there was a lot to choose from). It's a paperback, a bit over 20 years old, and a bit shabby (which is a good sign; like the Velveteen Rabbit, good books tend to get a lot of wear, while not-so-good books tend to remain "good-looking"!).
I brought it home to America and read it in my living-room in Columbia, Maryland. Soon, I'll be sending it off to my mother-in-law, who lives near Seattle, Washington. When she's finished, she'll either give it to a friend, or, more likely, donate it to either the library booksale or her retirement community's annual "patio sale" (an event so popular that it actually brings in customers from across the country).
That's quite a journey for one small book published in 1985, and it's probably far from its journey's end. (Nor do I have any idea how far it may have travelled in the 20 years before it reached me!) That's what got me thinking... Is there any other "thing" that we can create that has the same type of lifespan? Is there anything else that gets passed so far, from hand to hand, not only from one state to another but from one country to another?
I love crafts, but if I were to design, say, a charming bead necklace for someone as a gift, and they tired of it, that necklace would most likely end up in a garage sale or a thrift shop. Someone else may pick it up and enjoy it, but only as a "thing" - they'll have no emotional connection, no shared experience, with that necklace's previous owner, let alone its creator. And even more to the point, it would be passed along precisely because its owner tired of it -- not because someone liked it so much that they wanted to share it with someone else.
But the amazing thing about a book -- not just this book but any book that travels from hand to hand -- is that every person along that book's journey shares the same experience. They live the same adventure. More importantly, they share the experience, the emotions, the adventure that was intended by the book's creator, even though this particular book was written nearly a quarter of a century ago.
What can be more exhilarating than the realization that when you create a book, your creation will live on for decades -- and that every person who picks up your book will experience precisely what you intended them to experience? Surely this is a true form of immortality! And surely, this is why we do what we do!
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