When I was growing up, there was a tree fort in the rain tree in our backyard. The tree fort had a rope ladder and a trap door, and I would climb the rope ladder with one hand and cradle a book in my other hand. And when I got up to the tree fort, I would slam the trap door shut and sit on the sun warmed wood under that great canopy of green, and read and read and read.
I could feel the stories I read pushing against the walls of my heart.
I could feel myself expanding.
I did not, then, know the word capacious. But I did know, I could feel , that my heart was being opened by the words I was reading.
Kate DiCamillo’s Newberry Medal acceptance speech is a beautiful tribute to the word capacious. It’s also a powerful reminder of the ways in which books form and shape us. As I read it, I found myself saying, ‘Yes, yes, yes!’ and thinking about the stories that have lodged in my own heart and been soul-shaping for me.
How can I find the words to talk about what books have meant? Sometimes, as a child, late at night when everyone else was asleep and the house was at last quiet, I would imagine that only I existed, in the circle of light which illuminated the page. The words soothed me, made me feel that I was not alone in the world. It was as though someone was shining a light on something I had known, but never quite been able to articulate, making some as yet unplayed note sing through me.
Books have given me permission to acknowledge the buried things lying below the surface of my life. They’ve opened doors to new awareness and made way for grief to do its cleansing work. They’ve given me hope and reminded me of those things worth despairing about. In Equal Rites (by Terry Pratchett) one of the characters notices that ‘There were times when a little detail could expand and fill the whole world’. Stories are whole worlds made of little things; one letter at a time a kind of parallel reality emerges, one that makes sense and stirs in us resonant echoes of of our own experience. Sometimes those words have filled my whole world, opening me to a fresh apprehension of the way things really are.
Like the sound of a bell, or a teaspoon against a glass, words are a call to let the clutter of voices competing for my attention to settle into silence, so that I can hear that one voice speak.
(Have a look at this week’s poem in the poetry corner, for some beautiful words that landed in my heart this morning.)