I have always imagined that paradise will be a kind of library. ~ Jorge Luis Borges
In education, we talk a lot about lifelong learning, and about how to inspire in our students (or perhaps preserve in our children) curiosity, passion and the desire to know, to discover, to push at boundaries. To be continuous creators, thinkers, questioners and enactors of their thinking and beliefs.
As an English and Literature teacher, and lifelong reader, who grew up surrounded by books, the physical book is for me a symbol of self-directed, voluntary learning. As a girl I was able to peruse bookshelves throughout my childhood home and pull books from the shelves, at will, to read and re-read. These books were not vetted for age-appropriateness but were a range of children’s books, novels, classics and encyclopaedias to which I had unfettered access.
Other vivid memories are of being in the study of my grandfather, who was a collector and binder of rare and beautiful books. His study was wall-to-wall floor-to-ceiling wooden bookcases, saturated with the overwhelming smell of old paper, worn leather and decaying adhesives. It was a paradise for the book lover!
Overnight my grandfather quietly passed away in his bed, at ninety years of age, his spectacles on and a book in his hand. He was a Doctor of Philosophy, a scientist, a professor, a poet and a thinker, who was reading and writing narratives, scientific writing and verse until his last breath. He was the epitome of a lifelong learner, a deliberate scientific questioner of knowledge and someone always willing to engage in hefty intellectual debate. Only yesterday he and I were discussing strategies for academic, thesis and poetry writing.
I discovered today that my grandfather has left me two of his prized books: an early copy of Sir Walter Raleigh’s History of the World and an antique Chinese text which is a concertina series of Chinese customs, paired with hand painted calligraphy scenes, and bound between curved carved wooden covers. Both are books I remember connecting with the first time he gingerly passed them into my hands in his study. I remember feeling their weight (the Raleigh is heavy!), fingering the irregular textures, and smelling that old book smell (read more about the science of that here in Jessica Leber’s Fast Company post) as I sank into the cocoon of his old chair.
As well as being objects that I will cherish, these books are symbolic for me of a life lived learning, something I aspire to, and to which I hope my students and my children will aspire.