Not only is the art of making a book sacred, but, when done well, the words within those books are sacred as well. After all, Christ came as the Word, and words, when properly understood, reflect His eternal glory and dignity, even if confined to ink on a page…
From the moment I read my first book—a child’s biography of Lewis and Clark, recommended to me by the wonderful and caring librarian at Wiley Elementary School in Hutchinson, Kansas—I knew I wanted to be a writer. I can still see, smell, and feel that book, though I’m not sure I know the exact title any longer. It was a part of a series of reddish-orange biographies of famous Americans, and I remember eagerly devouring book after book in that series, each one in the same style as the Lewis and Clark one. Ben Franklin, George Washington, Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett, Betsy Ross, and others followed.
It wasn’t just the story of Lewis and Clark that thrilled me, though their story has stuck with me ever since. It was the very construction and art of the physical book itself that moved me, even at age six. There was something sacred in holding that book, or any book, frankly. The cover had been created with woven cloth, and the texture still resides in my memory, safely and lovingly held there for nearly five decades.
I don’t want to suggest that I knew I wanted to be an “author” or to make a career out of writing with that first Lewis and Clark book. I was simply too young in first grade to know what a career even meant, and I was still, rather blissfully, a small child concerned with the most wonderful of small childish things. By the end of September of first grade, though, I did know then that I wanted to learn to write and to write as often and as broadly as possible. In many ways, my desire was as much to make a thing called a book as it was to tell a story. I’m not sure I separated one from the other at that age.
From those early biographies, I leapt into the fantastic, and I was soon reading everything I could regarding real-life heroes (often mythologized) as well as histories of ancient worlds (seemingly rather fantastic) and fantasy novels—by Madeline L’Engle, Ray Bradbury, and others.
Soon after reading that Lewis and Clark biography, though, I started reading—as with so many first graders throughout the English-speaking world—the works of Beverly Cleary. I found my first fantastic hero in the figure of Ralph the Mouse with the motorcycle. At the end of the fall of my first-grade year, just months after knowing I would somehow spend my life writing, I wrote a story about Ralph the Mouse meeting Santa Claus. My teacher thought well enough of it that I was asked to read the full thing to the sixth-grade class at Wiley. My older brother, Todd, was in that class, and I’m sure my reading embarrassed him to no end. To me, though, I had made it as a writer! Truly, it was a moment of immense satisfaction.
Outside of what was going on in my family (rarely pleasant, unfortunately, as there was no domestic bliss at home; my mom and stepfather were always in some kind of meltdown), five things dominated my life as a grade-schooler: reading; exploring every nook and cranny of my hometown (equally on bike and foot); spending time with my maternal grandparents and aunts; caring for our quarter horses; and hanging out with a few close friends.
Whatever the horrors at home, I loved my mom dearly, and she, more than anyone, encouraged any and all reading—whether of books, newspapers, magazines, or comic books. Her genius (and she is truly brilliant) inspired me to think ecumenically and broadly about reading and writing. Few, if any, things were forbidden, and my mom only insisted that we talk if I read or encountered something troubling, whether intellectually or spiritually. We never lacked for reading material, and frequent and beloved trips to one of the many used and new bookstores in Hutchinson and Wichita—as well as frequent visits to the Hutchinson Public Library—kept us well-stocked in reading material. Indeed, when it came to books, my house and my upbringing were full of endless delights and treasures. We had a massive family bible; biographies of all kinds of statesmen; hagiographies of the greatest Christian figures; histories of many aspects of the world; travel guides galore, often with stunning maps and graphics; atlases (a favorite in our house); the University of Chicago Great Books; the World Book encyclopedia; subscriptions to Time, National Geographic, Newsweek, and U.S. News and World Report; and a seemingly endless sea of novels, high and low brow. We spent hours just reading together as a family (not to each other; but quietly to ourselves), and we spent just as many hours talking about what we had read, what we had understood, and what was next.
My mom had inherited her love of reading from her father, and he—my maternal grandfather, Wendelin E (no period after the E; just E) Basgall—was the most dignified man I ever knew. He read constantly, staying current with all in the world, believing it the duty of every citizen to read, to absorb, and to think critically about this world and the next.
I must admit, when I read recently about some advice-giver on Netflix claiming that a home should have no more than thirty books, I was horrified. I suppose there are people who grow up with few books around them, and, frankly, I pity them. Not only is the art of making a book sacred, but, when done well, the words within those books are sacred as well. After all, Christ came as the Word, and words, when properly understood, reflect His eternal glory and dignity, even if confined to ink on a page.
There are aspects of my childhood that I would never wish on anyone, and, to this day, I wrestle with them. But, one thing I know for certain: My mother populated our house with books, and those books taught me not only respect for art, truth, and beauty, but respect for those who wrote the words and those about whom the words were written.
I may not have a Netflix show, but I can assure you, you will raise better children and families if you litter, clutter, and decorate your home in words. It might not be the highest way to honor the Word, but it’s not the lowest, either.
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Editor’s Note: The featured image is a picture taken by Patrick Tomasso, and is courtesy of Unsplash.