For this week’s Friday Free-for-All, I’ve had books on the brain. The wonderful and amazing Jenny Hansen posted yesterday about the way writers read, and today about her love affair with books, and it set me to thinking about all the reasons why books are awesome.
One of my favorite quotes about books comes from John Milton’s pamphlet Areopagitica, a treatise denouncing censorship and Britain’s Licensing Order of 1643. It’s a stirring defense of freedom of speech, and contains some of my favorite invocations of the power of books and the written word:
For books are not absolutely dead things, but do contain a potency of life in them to be as active as that soul was whose progeny they are; nay, they do preserve as in a vial the purest efficacy and extraction of that living intellect that bred them… Who kills a man kills a reasonable creature, God’s image; but he who destroys a good book, kills reason itself, kills the image of God, as it were in the eye. Many a man lives a burden to the earth; but a good book is the precious life-blood of a master spirit, embalmed and treasured up on a purpose beyond life.
Milton’s words are eloquent and grandiose, his arguments lofty and soaring. Areopagitica is worth a read, and is available on the public domain from Project Gutenberg.
I love the idea that books contain the “living intellect that bred them.” Indeed, whenever I read a book, I feel connected in some small way with the person who wrote it. Reading allows me to traverse time and place, to commune, if only for a few hundred pages, with the mind that gave birth to the book in my hands.