The Multifaceted Permanence of Books

by Emily Ball Cicchini, Executive Director

My home was one of the many hit by the Texas Memorial Day floods. We are only now getting everything back in order, thanks to many helpful friends and services, particularly two burly men from Stanley Steamer and two helpful home inspectors from FEMA. The damage wasn’t major, but it was a shock that made me realize how lucky I am and how fragile and special life can be.

We were playing monopoly in the dining room during the Monday afternoon storm, when I walked back to the living room to get something, and noticed that my feet were leaving dark footprints on the carpet. It took us a short while to figure out that the water was coming in from underneath. By the time we fully understood what was happening, the carpet was like a waterbed, dry on the surface but jiggling like Jello to the touch.

We immediately stopped what we were doing and fled into all the affected rooms, grabbing anything off the floor that we could pick up and moving it to the unaffected part of the house. There were boxes of Christmas cards behind my desk from years past, and taxes from 2009 that I had recently pulled out to check on some old home repair project. But the thing that made me jump the most and fastest was my great-grandmother’s Bible.

Antique Bible Print 1880
Image from my great grandmother’s Bible

Now, there aren’t many greater books more permanent and important than the Bible. But for me, it wasn’t only the Word that was important. It was the newspaper announcements of my great-grandmother’s wedding tucked in the pages. And, perhaps even more, the handwritten letter from a distant relative from 1864, recounting his experiences fighting and being wounded in the Civil War.

The book itself is falling apart. Its binding split, and the tiny holes of literal bookworms, small and perfectly round, threaten gently to contaminate all my other books. So I keep it in a great big plastic bag, both to keep what’s outside out and what’s inside in.

But it, too, had ended up on floor that day, and the thought of water working its way inside that bag made me move faster than a child hunting for colored eggs on Easter Sunday.

The Bible and its contents were fine, and safely tucked away on a top shelf in a dry room. In fact, almost all of my books were fine.  Unlike my old taxes and carpet and drywall.

But it did get me to thinking about the amazing permanence of books, and how valuable that is to me, and to all of us as a community, as a culture.

Since coming to BookSpring a few months ago, I have been awed by the sheer volume of books coming in and out of our humble portables, 144,000 this past year, being distributed all across Central Texas to deserving children who haven’t had the same luck with books that I have. I have always been the kind of person who gave away books freely…because books have always somehow found their way to me. Like my great-grandmother’s Bible.  I don’t know who or what I’d be without books.

What I’m struck with is that it’s not only the books themselves that we’re giving away. It’s all the different experiences associated with that book. The story, if it’s a good one, stays in the mind for days, or weeks, or even a lifetime.

And, probably most importantly, it is a connection to the person giving the book, and all the persons who had it before you, including the author/creator.

So, it took a flood and the threat of losing a physical book to remind me that books are not just physical: they are cultural, psychological, personal, and yes, even spiritual.

So, today, I hope you can both give and receive a book.  We need this daily practice of sharing stories to keep all our spirits alive and free.

The Multifaceted Permanence of Books
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The Multifaceted Permanence of Books

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