“Awww. Did you see that? Look!” Kathleen said to her daughter who was driving and trying very hard NOT to look at what Kathleen was showing her. That something was a critter alongside the road. That critter was not being cute or taking a nap; that critter had tangled with a vehicle and now was displaying its innards.
Dead critters are just one of the many things that we see in and along the road. Tire parts, shoes, gloves (One of my fellow-Chroniclers did a piece a while ago about single gloves along the byways.) and the occasional piece of clothing or furniture are some roadside there-must-be-a-story-there bits that we encounter. Before sunrise, not so long ago, I saw a first for me: my own, “Awww. Did you see that?” moment. To quote Ringo from “A Hard Day’s Night,” there was “a book, a bloomin’ book” in the middle of my lane! Bibliophile and collector of stories that I am, only fear of becoming one of those critters not-taking-a nap stopped me from hopping out of the car in the dawn-ness and retrieving it. The headline that flashed across my mind’s eye was, “WOMAN KILLED WHILE RESCUING ROADWAY BOOK.” Better judgment forced me from this path and on my way, but it couldn’t quiet my obsession with what I had seen. How did that book come to be there? Would someone greatly miss it? Did it belong to a library? What was the subject matter? So many questions churned in my head that I had to leave unanswered in the interest of self-preservation.
As a child adults impressed—not in so many words, but rather in action and tone—that a book was an almost sacred thing. At the beginning of each school-year, there was the ritual of sitting at the table and covering schoolbooks with cut-up and folded paper grocery bags, so that the books would stay clean and new-looking for next-year’s user. Also, there was the admonition, “Never, ever write in a book.” Creates an aura around books, doesn’t it?
Those scenarios have long made books high on my radar screen. Travelling through life with me is the first book that I ever bought with my own money. Travelling through life with me is the horrifying memory of realizing after a relationship break-up and the just division of volumes that, “Oh No, the Atlas was not mine!” Travelling through life with me is a realization that purging the book-shelf is a wrong-headed idea. Travelling though life with me is a slim blank book that I made.
Have you ever physically made a book? Let me tell you, it’s a real wake-up-call if you were thinking of taking books for granted. Some years ago, a librarian from the St. Joseph County Public Library ran a class where all students made a book. This class went on for several evenings and required many steps to produce—at least in my case—a marginal facsimile of a slim book. Sadly, I didn’t save the instructions. Since, I have looked at that great instructor-of-all-things, the internet, but only found instructions for one that is a sort of pamphlet and for another where they glued, rather than stitched, the pages together. (We all know that those don’t have anywhere near the same shelf-life as the stitched ones.) In the class that I attended we did use pre-made paper as the leaves. There had to be a limit: to have produced handmade paper for filling the book would have required many more evenings. I would love to take a class in papermaking though. If anyone knows of one locally, please contact me with details. My neighbor, Sandy, used to go out onto her driveway in the summer and make paper. She had forms, and combs, and husks, and flowers: my kind of project—fun-looking and messy. In Eric Gill’s Essay on Typography, he devotes a few pages to the paper upon which the typography will be pressed and he says, “It seems to be generally admitted . . . ‘hand made’ is the best, if only because the most durable.” There’s something to be said for aesthetics there too.
So, don’t do as I did and leave yourself riddled with questions. Instead, when you come to a book in the road, follow the Yogi Berra dictum, “Take it.”