I LIKE books. I like the feel of them, the smell of them, and
the contents of them. Any such enthusiasm probably stems from a
love of words. That love is often born in infancy. Our first words
evoke such pleasure and admiration that thereafter they seem to
acquire a mystic significance.
Living with words (as we all do) sets us up eventually for the
world of books, because here we have distilled words, choice words
- words used like a painter's brush, or a storyteller's jabbing
I suppose it does not really matter if the "book" comes in paper
and binding, or electronically (although give me a book to hold any
time). What counts is its mental impact.
A book, any book, is there to tell me something, to quicken my
imagination, to widen my understanding of other people and their
circumstances. The writer guides me into unexpected pastures, new
adventures, paths I've never walked before.
AS A child, I remember reading Uncle Tom's Cabin, that
Victorian tale of black men and women living and working on the
slave plantations of America. I was not reading it as a piece of
political or social propaganda, but as a story, with characters who
were to me lovable, but living in a situation that was often sad
Uncle Tom was just the sort of uncle anyone would want, and I
don't remember ever thinking that his racial origins mattered one
jot. When I had read it, I was relieved to discover that slavery
had been abolished 100 years earlier.
For me, that is a perfect example of a life-changing book.
Uncle Tom's Cabin, now dismissed as rather sentimental and
patronising, was (after the Bible) the best-selling book, in
English, of the 19th century. It probably did more to change white
people's feelings about black people in the US, and their plight,
than any number of sermons, or even Acts of Parliament.
The key word there is "feelings". And that is the power of the
printed word: a good book engages not just our intellect, but our
emotions. It may set out to convince, but, if it is to succeed, it
must also touch our hearts. Sometimes, to our surprise, it is the
simplest book and the apparently artless story that changes the