Thrift stores are exciting; one never knows what they will find. I’ve brought home things such as a teacup from Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation to a stuffed kangaroo. The clothes at thrift stores, at least in my experience, tend to be cozier; I’ve found my favorite sweaters there.
But what I find most enchanting about thrift shops are their books.
In thrift shops we find hardcover copies, most of them characterised by age and use. I have found poetry books in which passages were marked by the previous owner, little notes in the margins; it is a lovely sense of not reading alone. Also, thrift stores let us find novels that aren’t well-known; we rediscover the bestsellers of yesteryear.
I have felt tempted to weep at the books that exist but I will not have time to read. I am glad, though, that I discovered Rosamunde Pilcher in time to revel in her heartwarming stories. I will read as many of her books as I can; perhaps some brilliance will rub off on me. They have the feel of a warm cup of tea on an autumn afternoon.
The first book of Pilcher’s that I read was The Empty House. A powerful, clean romance, it gave me hope to follow Virginia’s journey as, after a tragedy, she found her own identity. She built herself from scratch, took back what was hers (including her children), and chose at last to live the life she’d dreamed of. She discovered what love is, and what it is not.
If you want a story that will make you feel good, The Empty House is a short read, and you will remember it. Not all books need to be long in order to make an impact.
It’s a lesson I learned this year: often the best stories are the ones that can be finished in a day. However, it will not be an ordinary day. If a story is good, if it has the author’s heart in it, the reader will never forget the day the book was read.
On the surface, The Written World looks to be a history book on the topic of literature. I discovered it was something deeper, far more delightful.
Author Martin Puchner has a love for books much like my own; this book is his journey to find the soul of literature, the source of her power, the reason she can change the world. Its reflective nature made it more powerful than a history book. Because the author included himself as the explorer, the journey feels romantic.
I have always had similar reverence for the power of reading. There is more to any book than symbols on a page; the classics, for example, have become immortal for a reason. Something about them reached into the soul of society; something about them survived, while other manuscripts vanished into history, only a few to be discovered later.
From this memoir, I gathered something I already knew: give someone the gift of literacy and they will never be helpless. Teach a child to read and you never know what they will achieve. They will discover topics that fascinate them; they’ll find their vocation, and perhaps go on to win Nobel prizes.
Of course, it suffices that they read. The power is, in the end, to read.
Once upon a time, books were expensive to own. Only the wealthy could afford to build a library. Books are more accessible now, but do people recognize their value? It is not the same to download a file off of the Internet. Books were expensive back then because of their power; let us not lose sight of that power now that they can be obtained for free.
The prices of books have changed; their value remains the same. A book can still turn the world upside-down. It was worth reading a book about books to put this into perspective. It was worth reading The Written World so that I could understand my place as a writer. It opened my eyes to the great power I have: I can read, and in doing so, I can change my world.
I have a confession to make: I almost did not leave England. I can’t tell you what I would have done should I have stayed, being utterly unprepared for a move to a different country. Still, I cried on the night before we were to fly out. It had been lovely to walk the streets, take buses, and admire old buildings. I knew I was going to miss them, and I already do.
I can’t say that, during this trip, I found the London I read of in books. I didn’t expect to, either. A lot of time has passed between now and the England of Charles Dickens. Buildings have been torn down or made into shops; skyscrapers have been built that he would likely have thought hideous.
Yet beneath all this change, this modernisation, something felt familiar.
I might have been a tourist with only distant relations to England (ancestors from Derbyshire) and I might not have known where anything was. Still, there was something about the air as I walked. In my heart I couldn’t help but think, Ah, this is familiar. I am where I ought to be.
What is this magic that made me feel as if I had been there before? I can only think it is the power of story. The novels I read paint a different place than that which I saw, but those words captured the soul of that city like a sponge. When you tell a story about a person, you’re speaking of the person, whether they change or not. The same is true for cities.
I almost did not leave London. The only thought that got me into the plane out was the knowledge that I hadn’t the money to start over. I also did not want to make a rash decision blinded by the charm of tourism. However, I have every intention of going back, and perhaps the second time I will stay.
I was in love with England from the moment I stepped onto her soil.
Ten days in England was not enough to see all I wanted to, but it was possible to cover the basics. Buckingham Palace, the National Gallery, the Tower of London–it was all lovely. Having said that, my favorite place was the Charles Dickens museum.
You might call my love for his work an obsession. He had a grip with the English language that I cannot find with other authors; if you know of someone else whose work I might enjoy that much, I am open to suggestions.
We visited the Charles Dickens museum on our last day, with four hours to go before a rush to the airport. We rose earlier that morning and my mother asked me, “Do you want to see the Charles Dickens house?”
I had resigned myself to putting off my visit for the next trip; it was a sweet, unexpected surprise when she woke me to such an invitation. I dressed in a heartbeat and we called a taxi.
I felt chills as we wandered the museum, which is actually his house. It is encouraging as a writer to know that one of the greatest authors of all time had a desk to work at, a piano to play; he needed a bed to sleep on, and he had a library. His talent was great, but he was human like me. I can be a successful author while being myself.
There came a moment when I was alone in his library, and I told him, “Thank you for the stories.” Maybe he heard me; if not, at least I tried.
I think some of his inspiration rubbed off on me, because now that I am home I feel like writing again. I feel like publishing another book. I want to go back to being a writer.
Until the day comes when I can return to England, I will read more about her. There is so much to know. I will learn her literature and poetry, I will explore my roots, I will improve as a writer.
This trip to Europe has done wonders for me. I doubt I will have my house made into a museum like Dickens’, but I will at least have a reader or two. I will at least write again.
I know few people can travel for the sake of creativity. It isn’t the only way to overcome Writer’s Block, but it does work. I am blessed to have been able to visit lovely places and have new experiences.
It’s true that adventure, exploring the world, will do your creativity a wealth of good. Here in England, I have been brave enough to start a new novel.
There are many firsts in this novel. To start with, it’s inspired by what I see: old buildings, rides in the train, rainy weather. The first scene takes place in a train, albeit an older version. Secondly, I am not planning to make it a series. I don’t care about the length of the piece; what I want is a good story from beginning to end.
Leave your comfort zone and drink in what you see. I promise that eventually you will feel a new story growing in you, a flower pushing through hard dirt. It might take years for the seedling to see light, but if you’re patient enough, it’ll be something you love—something you want to write.
My favorite quote has always been by Vincent Van Gogh—
Normality is a paved road: It’s comfortable to walk, but no flowers grow on it.
I am fascinated by Van Gogh and his very sad story. I did not expect I’d be able to see some of his work in person.
Today we visited the National Gallery in London; I saw wonderful works, including his famous paintings of the chair and the sunflowers. I obtained a copy of his letters. I want to know how he saw the world, and connect with him a bit.
Museums give me chills. It’s a shame we went too late and were not able to see all the paintings, but I am happy with what I ran into. It’s possible we might return before we leave England, but if not, I have art books at home.
Reading about art isn’t the same; books are still magical.
I am not the same person I was when I left home. When a dream comes true, something in you feels brighter. You are like the flower pushing through the dirt, except the flower has bloomed. Eventually it’ll wilt and drop seeds for new flowers, new dreams. I have grown and I know it.
I mourn that I was unable to see all the works in the Louvre and appreciate them. It would require a lifetime studying each piece from every possible angle. I would have to make my home in the halls of the museum: each piece of art offers hours of contemplation.
I cannot live in the museum; this is the reason that art books exist, so that we can take the pieces home with us, in a sense.
However, books do not give us chills in the same way as the real works. Gazing at an original painting, we imagine the artist before his canvas, working to shade an eyelid or smile, or chiseling the look of agony on a statue’s face.
Books will not give us the same connection with the creator. Museums have this power: walking from frame to frame, statue to statue, goosebumps rise on our skin.
We feel mixed emotions. First comes hope—because such beauty is possible and can come from the human imagination, can be created by human hands.
Then follows a sense of despair, because to create such glorious pieces, we must dedicate our lives to practice. Most of us give up too easily.
But there is another despair: many of these artists had no way of predicting their work would be loved centuries later. They died in obscurity.
Does this not also give us hope? Art is not about fame, but fulfillment.
I choose to hold onto the positive feelings that gave me chills at the Louvre. My writing might seem scarce at this moment. I sense I am not doing enough to create something immortal. Fame is not the point. Perhaps my words will become famous after I have left this world.
What to do in the meanwhile? I will continue to create—because it heals me and fulfills me. I will not worry about fame.
In peace and in love, I will live a life of creating and learning.
When I first started reading books, I discovered their ability to transport the reader to different places. Between covers I have been to many locations, a good percentage of which are not real…but many that do exist somewhere on this planet. Of these I have enjoyed glimpsing between the lines.
How strange to think I am visiting these places. France? England? These were lands I knew because I read of them. For years I devoured written accounts from authors, fiction and nonfiction.
I’ve seen different versions of England, from Dickens to Rowling. Many French authors—classic and contemporary—have taken me to Paris. What a blessing to be going. I will have a chance to see these countries from my own angle; I will be able to tell readers of my own version.
I will have accounts of my own. My feet will tread cities ancient, sidewalks that have seen revolution and change. I’ll encounter buildings immortalized in beloved novels. I will have a chance to visit the graves of great authors, pray in old cathedrals, see castles.
As I packed, I listened to The Four Seasons and La Vie en Rose, letting the beauty of song mingle with my excitement. I have chosen Pride and Prejudice to read on the plane from San Francisco to Paris. I have daydreamed.
Oh! the stories I will write. My craft will be changed permanently. I will gather magic wandering these places so old but new to me. The stories growing in me! They might be novels or short stories, but whatever they are, they’ll be the most poignant tales of my life.
I had always thought that, if I were to see these places, I would be old and gray. No, I am blessed to see them with the energy of youth. Thanks to my mother for helping my dream come true so much earlier than I imagined. She is without a doubt the greatest and I love her.
Oh, the poems I will write. I am ready to meet the muses who helped build these great cities. I won’t have enough time to see all I want to, but there will be pictures, and the memories will stay. I won’t forget a moment of this visit—not a smell, taste, sound, flavor—I cannot forget.
White horses are
I cannot tell my world from theirs.
Coral, I watch wildflowers
Bloom before my eyes.
The breeze to me
Feels like a wave,
Tousling my hair.
I don’t think I belong here,
My home is not there.