Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Binding is Our Friend

The Binding is Our Friend

If I try to recall them, there are only a few phrases of reprimand that I heard growing up that I actually learned from, and it has become a life-long motto:  The Binding is Our Friend! 

My parents are both avid readers. They have different tastes when it comes to genre and style, but they are both book devourers. Sometimes, they'll even read a book together. If you enter my parent's room, you'll most assuredly find a book on my dad's bedside table, with a mechanical pencil resting on top of it (his favorite marking tool). If you turn into the bathroom, you will find books (and magazines) of every kind on the edge of the bathtub where my mom does a lot of her reading. These are the examples I grew up with, and I am grateful for it.

When I was twelve years old, I decided to hide myself away in my new room and read The Hobbit for the first time. I don't know how, or why, I read the book. I can't recall how I heard of its story, or who suggested that I read it. I only remember that I wanted to copy my parents', and read, isolated and undisturbed. 

I had just switched rooms with my sister in the upstairs of our relatively new home (I didn't know, until years later, that it was because my parents thought she "needed" a bigger closet) and I was, at first, a little uncomfortable in my new surroundings. Unfamiliar with my new room, I was also very unfamiliar with the type of book I started to read. I had never before read a book of that size, lexical level, or genre. The introduction, to what would become my favorite book and series, captured my imagination permanently.

"In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort."

A step up for my imagination from the Hardy Boys and the Boxcar Children series, the story of a Hobbit was foreign and intriguing. What was a Hobbit? What did it look like? Where did it live? And who is that man in the pointy hat on the cover of my new book? 
As I first started reading, I remember trying to mentally picture the shiny brass door knob of Bag End and the complexity of its design, hallways, furniture, and size. I had never been exposed to so much rich detail and description. The size, smell, shape, hair, feet, laughs, face, clothing, names, genealogical history, and character of these new creatures were all described to me in the first few pages, and I couldn't get enough. 

It was as if my imagination had just been injected with literary ecstasy. New characters, names, histories, places, and words filled my head with images that I never had seen before. Why was this happening? I had read many books before, but I had never felt this way while reading a fictional story. Something positively fictional felt so real.

I could hear dwarves singing songs that I actually, in reality, had never heard before:

"Chip the glasses and crack the plates!

Blunt the knives and bend the forks!

That's what Bilbo Baggins hates-

Smash the bottles and burn the corks!
Cut the cloth and tread on the fat!
Pour the milk on the pantry floor!
Leave the bones on the bedroom mat!
Splash the wine on every door!
Dump the crocks in a boiling bawl;
Pound them up with a thumping pole;
And when you've finished, if any are whole,
Send them down the hall to roll !
That's what Bilbo Baggins hates!
So, carefully! carefully with the plates!"

Tolkien's vivid description of the characters and settings in his works fed my young imagination's appetite and has left me with a permanent hunger for detail. 

As I carried the book with me around the house, in the car, and in my bedroom, I would, at times, leave the book face down and open to mark my spot. I just couldn't stand the thought of closing the book because I knew I would be back to continue my exploration of Middle Earth as soon as I could. 

One day, my dad found the book propped open and face down, as I had left it to be continued at a later time. He called me into the room and told me, "The binding is our friend," and, while closing the book, put a piece of paper in it to mark my spot. He couldn't stand the thought of seeing a book's spine be damaged by my method of conserving my spot.

From that book and that experience, I learned that books really were my friends, binding and all, and that my imagination hungered for vivid detail and description. 

I can only imagine what my dad might say about the treatment of my friends without a bookshelf to house them.

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