On Books and the Places They Take Us

Some of my most prized possessions are books. Books have always held transformative and inspiring power in my life. For this reason, I always give books when I can as gifts to people I care for—when we share the gift of words, or music, or art, it is an extension of ourselves in hopes to move another person, to share a wavelength we ourselves have felt. Books captivate us with words we never sought to speak, ideas we never thought to think. Some argue they are the most powerful weapons of all. They are capable of enriching our lives in compelling ways, allowing us to takeaway the experiences of others that were previously unfathomable. After all, learning to read is the first form of travel most of us are granted. I have always loved books for these reasons, but also for reasons extending far beyond plot lines or character development.

Each book I own comes with a meaning outside of the words on the pages, prompting memories of the people and places from which they were obtained. Each book holds a different, unintended story about who I was and what I was experiencing when I read it. For example, I cannot look at a copy of Candide without feeling somewhat sad because although it’s an excellent book, it happened to be the one I was reading when my world was first rocked by the death of someone I loved. By that same token, I can’t help but smile every time I see a copy of Notes from Underground by Dostoyevsky in a book store because it reminds me of a new and exciting time in my life- leaving the country for the first time, boarding a plane to Amsterdam with people I hardly knew, old book and shiny new passport in hand, having no idea how much the notion of travel was about to completely change the direction of my life thereafter. I like to leave notes in books, stained and underlined and slightly ragged by our time together. A well-worn book is a sign of an intense affair. These notes help remind me of who I was, my opinions and ideas, what I thought was important enough at that point in my life to place an asterisk next to it. Revisiting anything I’ve written, significant or not, has always served as a humble reminder that the self is fleeting.

I dream of the day I will have a library to call my own, filled with the books I have inherited throughout my life—a collection of stories within stories. Much to my dismay, books amass weight along with wisdom (if you’re asking yourself why not just buy a kindle then you have officially missed the point). This makes it difficult to carry them in transit or more specifically, on the baggage belt. As much as it pains me to part ways with books I have loved reading while on the road, I enjoy gifting them back into the world just as much as new books to family and friends. I leave them on park benches, posed in the laps and arms of statues, in hostels, once in an airport bar by force (damn you weight limits), wherever seems like a place curious people belong—which is anywhere when you think about it. The world is a bookcase. I like to imagine the book catches someone’s eye and they decide for themselves to pick it up and read. Maybe unsure, they see my notes inside and take it home, assuaged by the evidence it must be worthwhile if someone has already enjoyed it enough to scribble their musings inside. Maybe the book belongs to another wanderer for some time, pages marked with colorful currency and airline stubs, stained with coffee and wine. Maybe the book leaves an impression in their mind, too. Maybe they pay it forward. At least that is what I tell myself as I leave a copy of The Unbearable Lightness of Being on a seaside bench in South Korea. Now what will I read next?

By Megan Hanesian
Read more of Megan’s stories on her blog

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