I was in Waterstones on Sauchiehall Street last week and it was a shock to find the store in the throes of a complete overhaul, such that games and gifts and gimmicks seem to be much more prominent now than books. Also, the section of the store that I would be most inclined to browse in has moved from the first floor to the top floor such that, with wearying limbs and declining energies, I’d be much more likely now to take the lift than climb the stairs. I know it’s a sign of the times, and I admit to being part of the problem in that I possess a Kindle, but as someone with a passion for books I find it all a bit sad, and even more so when I remember bookshops like Dillon’s, John Smith’s and Borders that no longer exist.
My passion for books began at St. Peter’s Primary School in Partick when I won first prize in a spelling competition and the prize was an illustrated copy of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. It was the first book I’d ever actually owned. I devoured it greedily, and I’d swear that this book was much more of a treasure to me than ever buried gold was to Long John Silver. Stevenson became a bit of a favourite for a while and I read Kidnapped and The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the Sherlock Holmes stories became another favourite, but really, I would read just about anything I could get my hands on. When I was in St. Mungo’s Academy I took a course on the novels of Graham Greene and that took me in another direction, to people like George Orwell; Ernest Hemingway and Evelyn Waugh. I have to confess also that I have read and loved every one of the Harry Potter books. Nowadays most of my reading is quite serious, but for relaxation I still love a good crime novel, and I think that many of the best crime writers are Scottish; Ian Rankin; Denise Mina; Stuart McBride and Peter May being among my favourites – no bias there at all! The book on my bedside table at the moment is Alex Gray’s the Darkest Goodbye, part of the Detective William Lorimer series set in Glasgow.
A couple of years ago, while browsing in the Bestsellers section of Chapters Bookstore in Dublin, my attention was caught by a book entitled Everything Men Know About Women. It was selling at €5.99 and presumably people were buying it if it was on the Bestsellers shelves, but in fact the pages were blank. Apart from the front and back cover the inside contained about 200 pages of absolutely nothing. I wondered who was paying nearly 6 Euros for nothing, and if I’m honest I wondered was it women or men, in which case I had to admit that, not only did I know absolutely nothing about women, but I didn’t know anything about men either, because it was beyond me that anyone would buy this.
Of course, the best-selling book of all time is The Bible, which isn’t in fact one book but a whole library of books containing prose; poetry; songs; history; biography; proverbs; inspirational texts; legal texts; letters and much, much more. This is the Word of God in the words of human beings, under the influence of the Holy Spirit. This is the Word of God that became flesh in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, which is what we are preparing to celebrate in these Advent days. This is the Word of God that we are asked to give flesh to in our own lives by putting this Word into practice. The Prologue of John’s Gospel says it all:
In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning; through Him all things came to be; not one thing had its being but through Him. All that came to be had life in Him; and that light was the light of humanity, a light that shines in the dark… The Word was the true light that enlightens all people, and He was coming into the world… The Word was made flesh, He lived among us.