I just read The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop by Lewis Buzbee. The book, subtitled a memoir and a history, is a celebration of bookstores—from ancient times to the present. Today’s reflection is a mini-celebration of books, inspired by Buzbee’s book.
What makes books so wonderful? First, they are durable. When you borrow a book from the library, imagine how many other people have read it before you, and how many will read it after you. That means dozens, hundreds, or even more people will be reading this particular book you have in your hands! Or you yourself can read the same book again and again, and the book is not depleted. Books are flexible. You can take them anywhere. They require no electricity. They won’t crash or freeze. If the spine breaks and the pages begin to fall out, just grab a rubber band to hold them together. Unlike shoes and clothing, books never go out of style either.
Books are democratic. As long as you can read, you can enjoy books—no matter your age, gender, occupation, social status, religion, political leanings, or language. Reading a book is ordinarily done alone. But if the same book is read by others, it can stimulate lively discussion among its readers. Books are different from movies. Movies present images on a screen. Books create images inside your head. To me, this phenomenon is the real magic of reading.
Neurologists tell us books are good for the brain. When we watch a movie or TV, our eyes remain idle, focused straight ahead. But when we read, our eyes move back and forth across the page. This physical movement supposedly stimulates our brain. Buzbee says a book is a “Stairmaster of the mind.”
Books are powerful. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin is sometimes credited with laying the groundwork for the Civil War. The book was not a treatise against slavery. It was a story of a particular slave, a story that showed the cruelty and inhumanity of slavery.
Books can be so powerful that, throughout human history, government
leaders have often banned or burned certain books. One of the most famous book burnings was carried out in Germany and Austria by the Nazis in the 1930’s. Other famous book burnings occurred in China, the Mayan civilization, and ancient Alexandria. (See Ray Bradbury’s novel Fahrenheit 451 to learn more about book burnings. The title is the temperature needed to burn a book!) Even our Catholic Church had the Index, a list of forbidden books. It ceased in 1966.
A current confirmation of the power of the written word was Time magazine’s decision to choose journalists as their Person of the Year. All the journalists on the four different covers were either killed or are in prison for what they wrote. Every despot knows, control books and the news, and you control the minds of your citizenry.
A few more facts about books:
+ There are 2.2 million books published annually in the world. In the U.S. between 600,000 and 1 million books are published each year. Most of those books will sell less than 250 copies. Half the books published in the U.S. are self-published.
+ Research shows that Americans read a mean average of 12 books a year. But that number is inflated by avid readers. Americans read a median average of four books a year.
+ Let’s say you buy a book for $25. Where does that money go? On average, the author makes $1.88; the printer $3.00; the publisher $8.87; and the bookseller $11.25. If an author has an agent, the agent earns 10% to 15% of the author’s share. The publisher and bookseller earn a larger share of the money because of all their costs: payroll, rent, supplies, etc.
+ Unless you write a best seller (like Michelle Obama recently did!), you will not get rich writing a book. Most successful writers have other jobs to supplement their writing income. Many teach. A writer friend of mine wrote car manuals for General Motors on the side.
+ Used book stores are examples of recycling at its finest.
+ I love books so much, I find it almost impossible to throw one away.
So, what about you?
Do you love books?… What books do you own?… How many books do you read a year? … Do you belong to a book club?… What books have made a deep impact on your life? What books have you read more than once?… Is there anything in this reflection on books that struck you or surprised you?
PS: I ask for your prayers for the retreat I’ll be leading aboard the Royal Caribbean cruise ship from Feb. 7-12. We have over 65 people making the retreat. I know some of you are on the retreat! We sail from Fort Lauderdale and make two stops: Havana, Cuba and Puerto Costa Maya, Mexico. My retreat theme is “Finding God in the Ordinary and the Amazing.” I’ll give four conferences on finding God In Nature, in People, in Pain and Sorrow, and in Hope. I’m looking forward to this unique experience. Thank you for your prayers!
Today’s song is an old favorite of mine, a song I first heard when it was recorded 40 years ago by B.J. Thomas: “I Need to Be Still (And Let God Love Me.)” For decades I used it for talks and retreats. And I keep going back to its beautiful message: We must make time in our busy lives for God to love us!
I invite you to respond below to this reflection and/or song. I’d love to hear your thoughts about books!