If you know me at all, you know how I feel about books. There is nearly always one within arms' reach, and there is often one in my bag or car, just in case I can steal a few minutes reading during those idle moments forced on us by society, like red lights. I'm a book geek, which, if you ask some, isn't so bad.
Nicholas A. Basbanes, author of Every Book Its Reader, may be the written word's greatest champion. A former investigative reporter and literary editor, Basbanes spends his time these days working on a column for Fine Books & Collections and writing books about books (just saying that makes me geek out a bit). Published in 2006, Every Book is a meandering and lovingly composed investigation into the ways books have shaped history. While it took me a while to read, there was never a question of seeing it finished.
The book's raison d'être is that reading matters. It's important to people great and small, because books shape their readers. Whether it be fiction our non, what we read changes us. In reading, we come to new ideas, far off places, or new ways of looking at the mundane. Even when we hate a book, it still generates emotion, and that moves us and shapes our personality. And just as we are shaped individually, so it is the individual reader which shapes the group, through the common topic of a certain book. Books like The Origin of Species (Happy Belated Birthday, Mr. Darwin) can move world thought, but the humble, forgettable — dare it be said? — fun books, can mark the days and hours of our lives. Every Book looks at them all, or examples anyway, and ruminates over people who have been changed through something so simply complex as reading.
It took me nearly three full months to read Every Book, but that was not out of any particular difficulty or length. Instead, I found that the wandering nature of the author's writing here lent itself to sipping rather than wholesale drinking, as it were. By comparison, Basbanes' A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books from 1995 had the much more restrictive focus of bibliomania, which gave it more of a linear feel. Because of the expansive nature of Every Book, I found that any effort to plow headlong into the narrative left me reeling a bit, heavy with names and titles.
Chapter three, for example, "Eye of the Beholder," covers Shakespeare, Harold Bloom, Ray Bradbury, Charles Darwin, the Unabomber, and the Patriot Act. Basbanes demands a fair bit of mental dexterity from his readers in order to keep pace with the connections he draws. That said, I often found that letting the book simmer for a few days gave me the time I needed to process my reading. It was a different pacing from my typically ravenous habits, almost like reading through issues of a journal, but I found it pleasant once I made the adjustment.
Really, I suppose there was little chance of me not liking this book. Basbanes is preaching to the choir and I'm singing in the front row. There are still passages of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings which send me tumbling out of my chair, praying to God that I could write like that. Every Book Its Reader is an ode to all that is great and wonderful about the printed word. If you're already a believer, it's a rallying cry, and if you wonder why people like me get so worked up over words, well, it's worth finding out.