Looking for some magical summer reading? Let me recommend a book I’ve just finished: People of the Book by Pulitzer Prize winning author Geraldine Brooks.
People of the Book is the wonderfully told tale of one small book, an illustrated Hebrew prayer book created in the fifteenth century, and all the men and women who lovingly owned or protected it for over five hundred years. Brooks cleverly tells the story in reverse chronological order — starting in modern day with conservator Hannah Heath’s efforts to stabilize the condition of the book, and moving backwards until the mystery of the book’s creator finally unfolds.
Along the way, Hannah unearths curious clues and signs that give her deep insight into the history of the book. Through war and deprivation, through Inquisition and forced emigration — the power and beauty of the book causes people to go to great lengths to preserve and protect it. Hannah comes to see that the book is so much more than just parchment, ink and gold leaf.
It’s precisely this idea — that each book tells not only its story but also the story of every hand that ever held it — that appeals to me. It’s the feeling I have when I hold something that once belonged to my great-grandmother. What did she think of as she held it? What was going on in her life at the time? Did she travel far with it? Did she enjoy it as much as I do?
It’s the same feeling you can’t help but get when you stand on the steps at the Lincoln Memorial and accept the profound realization, “I am standing just where Dr. King stood”, or when you hike the Appalachian Trail and feel the spirit of those who’ve passed the same way before.
It’s a walk back into time, into a deep connection with someone else’s life.
And Brooks’ book shows that we’re all connected. Christian, Jew, Muslim — all worked to save one little book. Soldier, spy, scientist — each did his part, building on the work of others. Man and woman — engaged in creation of something lasting and magnificent. Yes, we’re truly the product of everyone who has come before us — an amalgam of their decisions, their actions, their hopes and their loves.
Perhaps you’ll pick up People of the Book. You’ll read it, love it, and leave it. For someone else to read. And to love. Part of the great continuum.