“Whenever I am alone, I sit with books. If someone behaves badly with me I go home and sit with books.”– Martha Nussbaum, A Velocity of Being
There is nothing quite like the physical presence of books. I enjoy the welcomed ease with which an audiobook can speak to me through my headphones while I’m at work or in the car or on a run. I appreciate the incredible convenience of being able to hold a digital library hundreds of books strong in the palm of my hand and ever at-the-ready in my pocket. But when I’m tired, lost, stressed, anxious, alone and overwhelmed, none of these alternative forms of books can comfort me with the same kind of consolation I’m afforded from simply sharing the materiality of space with a collection of physical books.
Martha Nussbaum says that “Reading opens up worlds inside your head, worlds you can explore, play with, roam around in.” She says that not only are these “Worlds…in you”, they “become part of you.” I know first hand how every closed and constricted corner of who I am releases when I read. How all the strangled parts of myself, gasping for air, start to breathe without constraint. Every book I open, opens me up a little more, and the whole world opens in response. When I breathe, the world breathes too; richer and deeper. Everything expanding. All at once.
Anne Lamott says that “we think we are drops in the ocean, but that we are really the ocean in drops, both minute and everything there is.” It’s not only that we are a world unto ourselves, it’s that we ARE THE world; not simply a part of it or a piece of it, but the entire cosmos intricately and meticulously condensed to a person sized scale. We are the whole world made miniature. In which case, there is no inside/outside distinction to be made between ourselves and the world. To explore ourselves is to explore the world, to open ourselves is to open up the universe in total, to expand who we are is to expand all that is. “When you read, you become bigger”, Nussbaum says, and when you become bigger the whole world becomes bigger too.