Long live the Republic of Words

Pam Frampton
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"We read to know we are not alone." - C.S. Lewis

I recently joined a new group - one whose members number in the millions and are scattered worldwide.
Now, I'm normally not much of a joiner, but I figured this organization was worth it, because my husband's a member and our daughter is one of its most fervent affiliates, and they've been talking about it for years.
No, it's not some kind of cult - though its members do tend to be somewhat zealous - and getting accepted into the group is quite simple. All you have to read a book - in this case, "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone," the first volume in the spectacularly popular boy-wizard series by J.K. Rowling.
On Dec. 19, when I wrote a column about the advent of e-books, I heard from some readers who suspected I was anti-technology. The truth is, I can understand the appeal of reading devices that you can carry anywhere and that can store a virtual library.
But that doesn't change the fact that books - real, tangible books, with covers and paper - can create actual communities of people who come together to celebrate the launch of new volumes and share in the joy of reading a common story.
When you're among a bunch of kids and parents, many in costume, queuing up outside a shop at midnight, all eager to get their hands on, not the latest video game system or the newest teen fashion trend, but the latest Harry Potter, you understand the true power of reading.
And books, real books, allow you to connect with others in a way I suspect e-books never will.

Free for the taking
Last summer, I decided to try something I had been thinking about for a while - I "liberated" a book.
En route from Toronto to St. John's, I left a hardcover edition of Bonnie Burnard's novel "Suddenly" in the airplane's seat pocket, inscribed with a note explaining that the book was now the property of whoever found it, and that I hoped they would enjoy it and eventually liberate it themselves to share it with others. I left my e-mail address in case the finder wanted to get in touch.
To my amazement, less than a week later, a message appeared in my e-mail inbox with the subject line: "I found your book!"
"My name is Sara," she wrote, "and I live in a small rural community known as Alliston, Ont. My town is just one hour northwest of Toronto. I am currently a high school graduate and my father brought this book home after finding it on an aircraft. I am currently reading the book and am loving it. I think your idea of passing books along is fantastic. It's a great way to share a wonderful book among the world. Who knows where it will end up next? I will do my part and pass it along to some lucky recipient on my next trip. Thank you for sharing this book and please continue to do so. One day you may get to find another book left behind by me."
Now, it's not like Sara and I have become best friends because of a book, but it is neat knowing that someone out there is reading a story that you recently read and that a great book is getting shared around for free. Somehow, I can't see using an e-book for the same purpose.

Speaking volumes
And there are many of you who feel the same strong affection for books, particularly stories that have changed or shaped your life.
Sam Johnson of St. John's wrote to me about how he found school tough growing up in Little Catalina, and didn't like it much.
By Grade 6, he writes, "I still didn't enjoy reading but I did love stories. My spelling hadn't improved a lot and my writing was described by one teacher as 'a hen dipping her claws into an inkwell and scratching over the page.' I had also been hit with expressions such as 'sawdust brains' and 'what's that on your shoulders, a turnip?' … but stubborn was my second name and so I kept on plugging.
"It was during this sixth grade that four or five of us discovered a library book … entitled 'The Valley of Adventure' by Enid Blyton. … My reading had improved somewhat and this book really caught my interest. I'm not sure how many times I ventured through that book during the year but it proved to jumpstart me in enjoying reading, which has never stopped. …
"The book also convinced me that I was capable of learning, and so I went on to graduation. … 'The Valley of Adventure' helped to take me out of my valley of slow learning to heights of reading that only increased as the years passed."
Sam Johnson graduated five years later and moved away, but nine years later, in September 1958, he returned to Little Catalina as principal of the new elementary school. The old school had burned down.
When Johnson decided to see how the school library could be improved, he made a joyous discovery.
"To my great delight, there was 'The Valley of Adventure,'" he writes.
"One cover was missing and it looked quite worn. I felt, however, that I had found a long-lost friend. I quickly took it to my office and, over the next couple of days, read it again. I felt I was being given a loving embrace by words.
"Now that two old friends were once again united, parting was out of the question. Besides, the book was damaged enough to be removed from the library. For a number of years I would read that story to my classes, one chapter a week.
"As I sit in my office writing this, I glance sideways and see the book that has helped give me many adventures in reading. It still has its front cover missing and it is held together with bright red tape, and once in a while I'll read it again and be a boy in 'The Valley of Adventure.'"
If you've got a favourite book you'd like to tell me about, please drop me a line. I'll share more book stories in columns to come.
Happy reading.

Pam Frampton is The Telegram's story editor. She can be reached by e-mail at pframpton@thetelegram.com. Read her columns online at www.thetelegram.com.

Organizations: The Valley of Adventure

Geographic location: Republic of Words, Toronto, St. John's

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Recent comments

  • Stephen
    July 02, 2010 - 13:22

    Surely The Valley of Adventure is one of Enid Blyton's novels. Well, I am glad to inform you that I have published a book on enid Blyton, titled, The Famous Five: A Personal Anecdotage (www.bbotw.com). br Stephen Isabirye

  • Stephen
    July 01, 2010 - 20:07

    Surely The Valley of Adventure is one of Enid Blyton's novels. Well, I am glad to inform you that I have published a book on enid Blyton, titled, The Famous Five: A Personal Anecdotage (www.bbotw.com). br Stephen Isabirye