The Danger of Reading a Few First Lines

How a few minutes in an old bookstore became a long afternoon.

I didn’t mean to buy five books. I only meant to browse the tumbled shelves at Poor Richard’s. I came for replenishment after two weeks of hard writing and a conference to boot. It’s not like I needed more to think about. I just wanted to have a good cappuccino, people watch, explore a few art books, read a few first lines. Skim, at most.

It was the first lines that got me. How, I ask you, could I leave books with such words as these in their opening chapters abandoned in the shop? Obviously, I was meant to adopt them into my library:

To my Readers: This book of essays was written because I believe that culture begins in the cradle. Literature is a continuous process from childhood onward, not a body of work sprung full-blown from the heads of adults who never read or were read to as children… from Touch Magic by Jane Yolen.

Has it ever occurred to you that the acts of reading and meditation resemble each other in many ways? Both are usually done alone, in silence and physical stillness, our attention focused, our whole selves – body, mind, and heart – engaged. Both can draw us deeply into ourselves, all the while taking us out of ourselves. Our consciousness shifts… from Walking a Literary Labyrinth by Nancy M. Malone

Ironically, to Campbell, the end of the hero’s journey is not the aggrandizement of the hero. “It is,” he said in one of his lectures, “not to identify oneself with any of the figures or powers experienced. The Indian yogi, striving for release, identifies himself with the Light and never returns. But no one with a will to the service of others would permit himself such an escape. The ultimate aim of the quest must be neither release nor ecstasy for oneself, but the wisdom and the power to serve others.” One of the many distinctions between celebrity and the hero, he said, is that one lives only for self while the other acts to redeem society… from Bill Moyers’ introduction to Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myth

This book could not have been written by sitting still. The relationship between paths, walking, and the imagination is its subject, and much of its thinking was therefore done – was only possible – on foot… It is an exploration of the ghosts and voices that haunt ancient paths, of the tales that tracks keep and tell, of pilgrimage and trespass, of song-lines and their singers and of the strange continents that exist within countries. Above all, this is a book about people and place: about walking as a reconnoitre inwards, and the subtle ways in which we are shaped by the landscapes through which we move… from The Old Ways by Robert MacFarlane

The mouse father put Despereaux down on a bed made of blanket scraps. The April sun, weak but determined, shone through a castle window and from there squeezed itself through a small hole in the wall and placed on golden finger on the little mouse. The older mice children gathered around to stare at Despereaux.

“His ears are too big,” said his sister Merlot. “Those are the biggest ears I’ve ever seen.”

“Look,” said a brother named Furlough, “his eyes are open. Pa, his eyes are open. They shouldn’t be open.”

It is true. Despereaux’s eyes should not have been open. But they were. He was staring at the sun reflecting off his mother’s mirror. The light was shining onto the ceiling in an oval of brilliance, and he was smiling up at the sight… – from The Tale of Despereaux, by Kate DiCamillo

What was I to do?

Brew a cup of tea, of course. And settle in for a longer winter’s afternoon of reading…

Comments are closed.