By Maria Popova
“The object we call a book is not the real book, but its potential, like a musical score or seed,” Rebecca Solnit wrote in her beautiful meditation on why we read and write. And yet while the seed may be fertilized by the reader’s imagination, the soil is tilled by the simple practical act of deciphering small marks on a page or screen and wresting from them meaning. Despite Hermann Hesse’s exquisite case for why the highest form of reading is non-reading, we can only non-read after we read — the willingness for reading is the seedbed of whatever potential the book may release in us.
But today, as the “aesthetic consumerism” of visual culture is displacing the contemplative intimacy of the written word, with nuanced texts reduced to Instagram images of out-of-context quotes, how are we to instill in the young the willingness to garden their own minds in the act of reading?
The story begins with the androgynous duck protagonist stumbling upon a book with no pictures and being at first baffled, then thoroughly vexed by this strange and seemingly senseless object.
But as the duck skeptically engages with the book, words — some difficult, some familiar — come alive into worlds.
Entire emotional landscapes unfold — now joyful, now sorrowful, now wild — as the duck slowly surrenders to the book and lets it carry her away before depositing her into the familiar comfort of her own bed: a beautiful testament to C.S. Lewis’s notion that books both change us and make us more at home in ourselves.
Complement This is not a picture book! with Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston’s spectacular A Child of Books, then revisit Proust on why we read and Neil Gaiman on what books do for the human spirit.
Illustrations © Sergio Ruzzier courtesy of Chronicle Books; photographs by Maria Popova