Sunday, November 10, 2013

Photo A Day, Day 10: Book

I love being able to have dozens, even hundreds, of books at my fingertips in the memories of my Kindle and my Kindle Fire. I was adamantly against e-books when they first came out, because I love the look, feel, and smell of a book. There’s something special and wonderful about watching a beloved book become dog-eared, its spine broken so it falls open at favorite passage, a “Velveteen Rabbit” transformation that makes it become more and more real even as it literally falls apart at the seams. (I found it deliciously illustrative when a large chunk of the book of Job fell out of my last Bible.) So even though I carry my Kindle all over and stock it with my favorite books, there are certain times, and certain books, when nothing but a physical, paper book will do.

Over the past week or so, I’ve been re-reading one of my favorite series, the Anne of Green Gables books by L.M. Montgomery. These delicious tales, set on Prince Edward Island in Canada beginning in the late 1800s, follow the life of young Anne Shirley as she is accidentally sent away from the orphanage where she had lived for the first 11 years of her life and is taken in somewhat dubiously by a pair of older, unmarried siblings who had intended to get a boy to help with the work on their farm. Over the course of six or seven books, Anne “grows in wisdom and in stature,” becoming a teacher, going to college, getting married, and having children of her own. A few additional books focus on her children and follow their lives.

Every book in the series is full of funny and poignant moments, from Anne’s ridiculous childhood scrapes and embarrassments that break her heart and bruise her dignity, to her near-loss of the love of her life (both to disease and to her own stubbornness), to the death of her firstborn daughter only hours after her birth. But the most heartbreaking and poignant stories anywhere in the books have to be the ones set during World War I, as Anne sends all three of her beloved sons to war; only two of them coming home. I’m not much of a crier when I read, but I will admit that I sob out loud every time Anne’s daughter Rilla reads her last letter from her brother Walter, written from the front the night before his death, as he tells her of his premonition of his own death the next day. We see the death of a soldier in war as experienced by himself, his mother, his sister, and his dear friend and would-be sweetheart.

Which brings me to another reason that I love physical books, especially paperbacks: the cover illustrations. There are many books with cover illustrations that capture perfectly the most important part of the book, that give you a tantalizing glimpse of the stories within. The Harry Potter books, illustrated by Mary Gran Pre, are good examples, as are several editions of C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia series. But I would include the covers of the Anne of Green Gables books illustrated by Ben Stahl among my favorites as well. His art on the cover of Rilla of Ingleside, which covers the years of the war, portrays Rilla herself, her pale, lacy dress blowing in the wind off the ocean, with a soldier in the background, both of them gently lit by a full moon and the light of a lighthouse.

The soldier might be one of her brothers; it might be one of her childhood friends; most likely, it is her sweetheart, to whom she may have become engaged just before he shipped out. His identity is as uncertain to the reader as his fate is to the characters in the book.

As I look forward to Veteran’s Day tomorrow, I am thankful for all the soldiers who have served their countries over time immemorial, and for the families who kept the home fires burning, waiting anxiously for news of the safety of their loved ones. Thank you all for your service.

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