There is nothing like books; – of all things sold incomparably the cheapest, of all pleasures the least palling, they take up little room, keep quiet when they are not wanted, and when taken up, bring us face to face with the choicest of men who have ever lived, at their choicest moments.
As my walking companion in the country, I was so UnEnglish (excuse the two capitals) as on the whole, to prefer my pocket Milton which I carried for twenty years, to the not unbeloved bull terrier Trimmer, who accompanied me for five – for Milton never fidgeted, frightened horses, ran after sheep or got run over by a goods-van.
Samuel Palmer, letter to Charles West Cape, 31 January 1880.
Books admitted me to their world open-handedly, as people, for the most part, did not. The life I lived in books was one of ease and freedom, worldly wisdom, glitter, dash and style. I loved its intimacy, too – the way in which I could expose to books all the private feelings that I had to shield from the frosty and contemptuous outside world. In books you could hope beyond hope, be heartbroken, love, pity, admire, even cry, all without shame.
No author ever despised me. They made me welcome in their books, never joked about my asthma and generally behaved as if I was the best company in the world. For this I worshipped them. I read and read and read – under the bedclothes with an illegal torch, surreptitiously in lessons with an open book on my knees, through long cathedral sermons, prep, and on the muddy touchlines (‘Kill him, Owen’) of rugby pitches, to which I was drafted as a supporter.
Jonathan Raban, For Love and Money (1987).
Books are really quite the ideal companion, aren’t they? They hold in them whole new worlds of possibilities, and of dreams and ideas where we can lose ourselves into, without having to risk life and limb over, nor having to fear failure and disappointments.
I definitely agree with Palmer on all the virtues attributed to books, except that I’ll have to differ on the part where he thinks they take up little room. Maybe he had a really large mansion back then, and so the space taken up by his books were small in proportion to the space he had. That, unfortunately, cannot be said the same of me. :p
Of all the inanimate objects, of all men’s creation, books are the nearest to us, for they contain our very thoughts, our ambitions, our indignations, our illusions, our fidelity to truth, and our persistent leaning towards error. But most of all they resemble us in their precarious hold on life.
Joseph Conrad, Books (1905).