Head Boy’s Blog

We all know that each one of us is the unique product of what we have been through in life. These events – single big events, a train of smaller events, the humdrum of everyday life – shape us, define us, mould us into the being that we are. Even if we don’t exactly understand ourselves all of the time.

But I think we are also the sum total of all the books we have read. I think that every book that we read (or have listened to being read) becomes a part of us. It finds a place inside us and settles down somewhere to become a thread of our fabric. Some books occupy less space within us or scuttle somewhere out of sight. Others take pride of place within our soul, touching us deeply and forever.

Like people, books look roughly the same – a set of printed pages, two covers and a spine – and you can never tell just by looking which one you will forget as soon as you put down and which one will end up being your best friend. The one you turn to again and again because it distracts you, comforts you, uplifts you or offers you guidance when you are feeling a little lost.

You can tell a lot about a person simply by asking what book they are reading or about their book journey. In fact, I think an excellent way to find out more about ourselves or to redefine what we want our self to be is to look at what we read. If we are what we read, then surely we can change our selves by what we choose to read in the future. He said that he felt he could go anywhere when he was reading a book.

My earliest book memory is in my mum’s office. She works in book publishing, so I have grown up in and around and among books. Not just the sort that you would recognise as books, but every stage that a book goes through from concept to manuscript to galley proofs. Pages without covers, covers without pages – my mum’s desk is covered with every deconstructed part of the anatomy of a book.

I have seen the pages of a book being printed, folded, glued, cut and bound; taking shape before my own eyes. The slightly metallic smell of freshly cut paper and barely dried ink and hot glue. The mesmerising rhythm of the press as it churns out page after page. Those books take their place dutifully in the office library and I do feel as if they mature there; the library has an earthier smell to it than a palette of newly delivered books.

Funnily enough, I remember thinking that we will never know whose hands the books will end up in and how they will be treated. Because books by themselves are only passive objects. What makes them come alive is the mind that reads them. The imagination that is fired by them. The heart that is touched to tears. The soul that is spurred to change.

And sometimes we do get a glimpse of that.

My mum received a letter from a prisoner that she had sent books to telling her that they were his lifeline. They were the reason that he woke up in the morning; the highlight of his monotonous day; the colour in his grey cell. He said that he felt he could go anywhere when he was reading a book.

101-year-old Holocaust survivor, Helen Fagin, tells a similar story. She was 21 years old when she was imprisoned in Warsaw Ghetto in Nazi-occupied Poland. She said that a smuggled book gave her “hope, the kind that comes from being transported into a dream-world of possibility.”

We do not need to be in such extreme circumstances as these to appreciate the power and wonder of a book. But I hope we all remain mindful of the fact that between the covers of a book lies the immense power to excite, enrich, empower and we are blessed indeed to be able to read whenever we choose and to be swept away by the magic that lies within.

Enjoy your book journey!

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