In the Company of Books

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All right, I admit it. I’m a throwback. I like books. And both of us are endangered species. I’m not talking about words on a screen. No, I mean books with actual covers and pages I can bookmark and easily flip when there’s a passage to which I want to return. Books I can rest face down on my stomach when my eyes require it. Books whose spines look back at me from a shelf. Books with their own, unique aroma. For me, a book is not just what it says, but what it is. A circle of friends with whom I am happy to share my living space. Friends with weight. Physical gravitas. That don’t vanish when the lights go out. Whom I can’t ask to leave without finding them another home, and I don’t mean the garbage.           

Books often introduce me to their friends and the people who wrote them. A biography of George Sand is my entree to Flaubert. A Life of Percy Shelley piques my interest his spouse, the creator of Frankenstein. I am taken places I could never go on my own. Even when I had only one room to offer, I sometimes entertained ten of these guests at a time. They weren’t intrusive, ate very little, and were always ready to pick up where we’d left off. One lived at my bedside, another by a chair. A book often dined with me. One accompanied me to the bathroom. Another waited patiently in my car. A good book can make a good walk even better. Two books meeting in a coffee shop was how I met my wife.

When humans visit us, our books invite them in, providing a far better introduction to us than we could.

So, you can imagine how thrilled I was by the first Bay Area Book Fest last weekend. So many people of all ages paying their respect to the printed word. A huge structure made entirely of books towered o’er Berkeley Green. Real books, tens of thousands of them, all for free, just waiting for some inquiring soul to take them home. To pinch a phrase from a kindly animal shelter, “Don’t e-read; adopt.” Get us off the endangered list. Both of us.




Richard Friedlander is a mediator and an actor. He lives in the East Bay.