By: Alexandra Medina-Leal
There is this very funny scene from an episode of Seinfeld where George asks his best friend Jerry to go over to his ex-girlfriend’s apartment to pick up some books that he forgot to take before he broke up with her. Jerry mocks him by asking why people insist on keeping the books they have already read in their homes as some sort of trophy on their shelves. On the surface Jerry is right; doesn’t it make more sense for us to save our money by renting books from the library and then returning them once we are done? Why do we decorate our walls with books we all too often haven’t even read? Are we proud to own Moby Dick or a biography of Beethoven because we think that this somehow says something about our character?
I too have a mini library in my home and I stare at my books like a new mom stares at her child. For me my books have deep sentimental value and my collections show the different stages in my intellectual development. I like to keep a record of how I have progressed and I also keep a section of books I have yet to read as a reminder of where I hope to be – the person I hope to be – some day in the future. I hope that books that are rich in information will change the way that I think, behave, feel, and connect with others; such a transformation is beyond the physical and can changer one’s temperament and spirit. Perhaps we truly are feeding our souls when we pick up a book.
The soul, in both religious and philosophical thinking, is that immaterial part of our being that connects us with what is beyond the corruptible and impermanent world. It is the channel through which we are united with what is beyond human experience and human creation – The Ultimate Being, The Uncreated Creator, The First, God etc. The connectedness of flesh and spirit is beyond complete human understanding, but its indivisible unity is undeniable. But one does not have to be a religious person to appreciate what the soul represents. It can simply be that ineffable part of a human being that makes us special, rational, and able to experience love, goodness, and justice; our soul is our humanity.
So following Cicero’s metaphor, one can say that a room is lacking meaning and definition without books to fulfill its purpose. The room need not even be a physical place; the room in our hearts must be decorated with the beautiful pages of literary masterpieces. We are most glamorous when we are covered in knowledge and most complete when we are basking in the light of truth. Most books are indeed bastions of knowledge and insight into the human condition. Even if the information they contain is proven scientifically incorrect or exemplify beliefs that are no longer the accepted norm, they at least show how far humankind has come and how truly a curious species we have always been. I believe that books can connect us to our past – our collective political, economic, cultural, religious, and gendered experiences – in a beautiful time capsule that will outlive us all.
Books are indeed one of the most potent means of achieving richness of spirit because they contain some of the most articulate expositions of all that is within the human capacity to know; human apprehension of such universal ideas provides us with a metaphysical channel to the beyond.