I have a wall full of books. I love them. I love the masterpieces, I love the pulpy and forgettable crap. I love the smell of aged ink, I love the texture of thin paperback sheets and the thick creamy stock of hardback first editions. But, these loves are secondary to what I love most: The expression of ideas through words that have moved from tongue to text.
Kobo, Kindle, Nook, iPad and other devices and programs for reading eBooks have proliferated and made walls of books like mine an endangered species. For a bibliophile like me, the physical object of the book is a pleasurable thing when it comes to the act of reading, but it is not a necessary thing.
There may come a time, in the very near future, when even the most avid readers will cease to own books. I do not see this as a tragedy.
I have never owned some of the books that had the most influence on my life.
In the Juvenile Fiction section of my hometown library, I met Ike. He was Jewish and lived in New York during the Great Depression. He was featured in a series of books written by Carol Snyder and Charles Robinson.
Ike’s life was nothing like mine. For me, childhood was all worry. I couldn’t sleep with anxiety over bullies, teachers and math homework I’d forgotten about. The freedom of adulthood looked easier.
Adult responsibility loomed over Ike and his friends. An illness, an unlucky accident, a bad financial time — all threatened to prematurely end their childhoods (and educations). Ike played as if each carefree moment were his last chance to have fun.
Ike’s boyhood taught me that interesting lives aren’t lived by people who ONLY sit and read. Interesting events happen to people who experience life.
Ike shoveled snow to earn his ticket to the movies. I shoveled snow too. An elderly neighbour told me she’d shoveled snow around the same time Ike had, when it was an unusual job for a girl.
Ike spent his nickels on dill pickles from barrels. Ours came in jars, but my grandfather assured me they’d once come in barrels where we lived in Ontario, Canada too.
When Ike wasn’t shoveling snow, buying pickles or playing in the streets, he was seeking his mother’s counsel over a plate of kugel. I looked it up in Joy of Cookingand my mother helped me make some. I didn’t like kugel so much.
My own neighborhood, my own family, became more interesting because of Ike.
Decades later, Ike came to mind when I heard Henry Jenkins speak. Professor Jenkins is an expert in the study of children’s play and the culture of childhood. In frontier times, boys had an average play space of ten square miles of prairie or forest, the professor told us. By the 1920s, that kingdom had shrunk to ten city blocks, a labyrinth of city streets and alleyways, a statistic represents Ike’s world.
When I was growing up in the 70s and 80s, the era of playing outside until the streetlights come on was ending. Even the luxury of walking to the library, as I did, is a privilege that cannot be granted to most urban children. They should know, like Ike taught me, what they are missing. The world is bigger and more interesting than any of us can imagine, for me that lesson began when a character inspired me to explore my own neighborhood more closely.
Recently, I searched my hometown library online catalogue for the Ike books. The series was no longer listed. On a famous book retailer’s site, owners were selling their used copies of the Ike books for as little as 1 cent plus the cost of shipping. I don’t need to own a copy to know that Ike and his friends are far more valuable to me than that.