Tuesday is traditionally the day for recommending books here at Bah!. I like to tell you about books I’ve read that inspire me, make me laugh, make me think, enable me to cook lovely food or make pretty stuff.
But after a weekend which included a visit to the British Library, this Tuesday is a bit different.
This Tuesday, I invite you to appreciate The Miracle That Is Any Book.
Beloved Auntie Susan and I started our visit with the Treasures Room. (Well, actually, we started with coffee and cake. Of course.) Never has a room been so well named. Jane Austen’s notebook. Charlotte Bronte’s handwritten manuscript of ‘Jane Eyre’ (open at ‘Reader, I married him’, of course).A manuscript of Beowulf from the 11th century next to Ted Hughes’ manuscript translation of it. Sacred texts from many religions, hundreds of years old.
After a bit of a lie down it was time for our visit to the Illuminated Manuscripts exhibition. Shockingly overcrowded and poorly curated, this display still managed to make one of the most precious and exciting hours of my life. Looking at books, hand-made hundreds of years ago, illustrated with beauty and detail and so vivid and immediate that the artist who worked on it might have just popped out of the room for a second.
Look closely at this. That blueness behind God (for it is He)? Not just twirly whirly sky. Sky filled with angels.
Time in the British Library made me realise just what a privilege, and a shame, it is to be able to treat books as disposable physical objects in the way that I do. A privilege because I have immediate and unthinking access to so much: information, stories, poems, other people’s lives that can bring help to mine, in books that I read in the bath, squash up in handbags, pass on or put in a pile. And I do this every day, with very little thought for the centuries of innovation and expertise that means a book is such an easy and commonplace thing for me to hold in my hand. Which is the shame of it.
Today, if a book crosses your palm – and I’m guessing it will – please take a moment to be grateful for what we have in the everydayness of this object.