My Beloved Books

I’m not a rich man.  I do not have a Mercedes in my garage.  I do not live in a ten bedroom mansion.  I can’t afford to drink Champagne and eat foie gras for lunch.  I don’t own a thousand dollar suit.

But I do not consider myself poor.  I am surrounded by books ─ hundreds of them ─ hundreds of beautiful books.  They are my treasures, my companions of solitude.  Having books close by gives me comfort, passion, and feeling of oneness with the universe.  My books make my soul feel rich.  They are the fuel for my mind.

Books are made of…

Books are made of paper,
And lots of ink and glue.
But they’re also,
Made of happiness.
And fear and sadness too.
Books are made of pictures,
And lots of different text.
But they’re also,
Made of anger,
And joy and pain and sex.
Books are made of memories,
And books are made of love,
Books are really,
So much more,
Than the paper they’re made of.


Magic. Pure fucking unadulterated magic.
That’s what books were to me.
From day one, as long back as I can remember.

My mom bought us a whole collection of Dr.Seuss.
It came in a giant cardboard house. Well, giant to me.
This would have been about 1970. I was 9 by then,
and while I loved them, they were geared more towards my younger siblings.
I was already devouring comic books, dipping my nose into the daily paper,
and beginning my collection of small books, condensed verions of classics.
I had discovered the Illusrated Classics collection, but there was also a series of smaller,
thicker animated books. I remember I had a version of Jules Vernes’ Voyage to The Bottom of The Sea.

When I look back now, rhyme writer that I am, I know I got a large amount of my sense of rhythm from Seuss, and a large part of my vocabulary from comicbooks. Just the other day I found myself using the exclamation  “egads!”

I remained a voracious reader through my young teenage years, and though never much of a thief, I have to admit (not proudly) that I stole many books from Sanderson Library, the local library at Bathurst and Dundas in Toronto, beside my school, Ryerson Public. It wasn’t stealing just to steal  either. I was driven by a need to escape into these books.

I don’t remember when I discovered Shakespeare, although I know it was in public school.

I recall that we saw a version of Midsummer Night’s Dream played out in the gymnasium. Instead of the action taking place up on the stage, it was staged in the middle of the large room, with we students sitting around the action on the floor, so we really felt like we were part of the action.

That must have been in grade 5 or so, because for Christmas when I was in grade seven my mother got me a two volume set of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. I was absolutely enthralled. I can’t tell you that I read the whole thing cover to cover, but I made a damned good attempt. I was fascinated, with both the plays and the sonnets.

I remember relishing each and every book or play we studied in school: Hamlet, Romeo & Juliet,  To Kill a Mockingbird, Catcher in The Rye, Lord of The Flies, Macbeth. Wonderful, each and every one of them.

When I was 17 I read The Hobbit and the succeeding Lord of The Ring trilogy. Entranced, absolutely entranced. Read them straight through, and remember crying my eyes out at the end, so shattered was I that Samwise got stuck back in the Shire at the end. Only later would I realize how necessary this was.

Reading became an active part of my adult life as well. I recall when I first read Robertson Davies’ Rebel Angels. It totally seized my imagination, and I read 9 of his books in a row. The remaining two in that trilogy (The Cornish Trilogy) and his other two trilogies, The Deptford Trilogy, and The Salterton Trilogy. Robertson Davies was as Canadian a man of letters as you can be. He was writing about his world, but he was writing about my world. It was exciting, and new, and old, and I recognized it, all at the same time.

The list of books is endless, Atwood, Robbins, Rushdie, cummings, Cohen, Blake, scores of biographies and poetry.

Books. An intricate part of my life, even up to today. Admittedly my reading has slowed somewhat, compared to what it used to be, but I usually have a couple of books on the go, both in Swedish and in English. Which is why it staggers me, disturbs me, and even frightens me, that it may not be so for the generations to come.

I may be over-reacting. I hope so, however I fear not. On a couple of occasions now I have marked that young people of my acquaintance, through friends and relatives, have a much lower level of literacy than I or my friends had at their age. I am not alone in this observation.  Last year the BBC ran a fabulous series entitled Why Reading Matters.

The series talks about the hidden benefits of reading, such as insight into others’ lifes and cultures, and the way it rewires our brains. Of course all of this was before the riots in England that happened in the past week. By now it is well known that looters overlooked stores such as Waterstones. A Waterstones employee is quoted on their Facebook page as saying “we’ll stay open, maybe if they steal a book they’ll learn something.” A glib statement in the heat of the moment perhaps, but one that carried with it a mutltude of truths.

The Four Hour Reading Pledge

By Arvind Jain originally posted to Flickr as "Match on TV"

According to a Nielsen study, Americans spend an average of four hours a day watching television.  I first thought that sounded like an awful lot, until I realized how much the television is on in my own household.  I generally watch the news in the morning if my youngest one is not watching The Jungle Book for the millionth time.  During my lunch hour I usually catch the news again, and in the evening my wife likes to watch The Biggest Loser or American Idol, and we both like PBS and some of the crime dramas.  It seems every time we are home, our television is on.  I can imagine it’s the same in every American household.  Pretty soon four hours does not sound like so much.

But it is a lot.  It is a lot of time that is wasted.  Time that could be better utilized.  Time that could be spent with your family.  Time reading perhaps.  I’ve got nothing against television.  Like I said, we do a lot of television watching in our household.  I just think it’s time for me to expand my brain and fill it with something useful.  Reading stimulates the brain, it’s an active thing.  It requires thinking.  Watching television does not really require much thought, and it really does depend upon the program you are watching whether or not it stimulates your brain.

I propose the following, a Four Hour Reading Pledge.  Instead of turning on the box with moving pictures, perhaps we should spend those four hours on reading instead?  Who is with me?  Let’s try this and see.

My Favorite Thing

For those who love to read,
Then a Kindle’s what you need.
It’s the coolest thing I’ve got,
And I use it quite a lot.
It’s not overpriced and sad,
Like some slick and white iPad.
Oh, my precious Kindle reader,
Undisputed market leader!
It holds three thousand books,
And I love the way it looks.
I charge it once a month at most,
Which is surely worth a boast.
I just really want to sing,
About how I love this thing.
By now you must want one,
So come on and join the fun!

Happy National Library Week 2011!

I always forget that technically the start of the week is Sunday.  To me, Sunday marks the end of the week, because I have to be back at work on Monday.  In my head, if I have to work on Monday, it’s the start of the week, not Day Two.   The reason for this rant is to make you aware of National Library Week 2011, which runs from Sunday, yes Sunday, April 10 to Saturday, April 16th.  In America National Library Week is promoted by the American Library Association, an organization I feel quite strongly about.  The ALA is often embroiled in politics as it pertains to censorship.  The ALA is very much pro-1st Amendment and against censorship, which is understandable.  In fact, the ALA also sponsors Banned Books Week, which runs from September 24 to October 1st this year.

Photograph of three of Nevins Memorial Library's earliest librarians

The ALA’s stance on censorship pretty much echoes my own:  If you don’t like it, don’t read it.  If something offends you, then avoid it and don’t introduce your kids to it, but don’t ban it (unless it’s illegal).  You see,  self-control and self-censorship works best.  I think the Golden Rule and Common Sense applies.  That book that you like, perhaps the Bible, no doubt offends other people of another religious faith, how would you like it if somebody wanted to ban that?

The fact of the matter is that a public library, yes PUBLIC library, contains, and should contain, a myriad of books on a variety of subjects ─ some of which offends; some of which engages your critical thinking; and some that tickles your fancy.  If libraries were to ban books that people found questionable, eventually there would be no books left, because there’s always somebody who is offended by something, or dislikes a particular book or subject.  I applaud the librarians who stand up for the 1st Amendment and recognize that differing opinions are not always a bad thing…

Support your local public library!



Beautiful Libraries: Old Library, St. John’s College, Cambridge

the pale side of insomnia via flickr

the pale side of insomnia via flickr

Doesn’t this just make you want to go back to university?  There are times I wake up in cold sweat wishing I was back in college.  How I would have done things differently, had I known then what I know now.  I think I pretty much breezed through college and university.  I was never a stellar scholar, but I was not an academic failure either.  I just did what I had to do to pass the class and keep on trucking.  If I had it to do over, I think I would take the opportunity for education more seriously.  Oh well, c’est la vie, n’est-ce pas?

Beautiful Bookstores: El Ateneo

If there is one thing we share here in Kang World it’s our love of books.  We are all bibliophiles in the truest sense of the word.  In fact if we could live in the Library of Congress we probably would.

I love books so much that when I go on vacation I would rather visit bookstores and libraries than scenic sites.  If I ever make it to Buenos Aires, Argentina, I want to visit the famous El Ateneo bookstore.  El Ateneo was built in 1919 and was converted from a theater into a book store in the early 2000s.  They say that a picture is worth a thousand words and all I can say is, “Wow!”


longhorndave via flickr

longhorndave via flickr

Only J. via flickr

violinha via flickr

kweezy mcG via flickr