The Wonder of Books

Sara Barnard

Tall dusty bookshelves, softly silent rooms and row after row of slightly tattered, well-loved books- as a child, this was my image of paradise. And it still is. There is something inexplicably powerful about the image of the book; that (generally) small collection of marked papers, often stored on the sideline of everyday life and yet containing the power to transform the world. This image combined with that of the writer who often stands seemingly still on the edges of society with a lack of that glitter which draws the eye of the world, and yet still molding, still shaping and moving that world with their ideas, their passions, their words, is one that has captured my imagination since I was very small. So heading into the MAPP project, I have been constantly overwhelmed and grateful for every bit of the experience.


Let me explain; one of my main assignments has been to track down first editions of the very first books published by the Hogarth Press, a publishing house founded by Leonard and Virginia Woolf in their living room at the close of World War One. And what an assignment that is! To find these books, these words and pages that were actually there, actually touched and created by some of these thinkers who have made the Western world today as we know it- these are some of the few physical objects that have a direct, tangible connection to the abstract concepts that have founded our world. For instance, the very first book published by the Press was Two Stories by Leonard and Virginia Woolf, containing (to no one’s surprise) two stories, one by each of the two writers. This book was handmade in their living room- every copy of this book is a physical representation of their ideas.


Can you imagine the world without Virginia Woolf? This woman who was among the first in the twentieth century to speak out on behalf of women for basic equality rights? Whose voice was among those who fought for the right for women to vote- can you imagine a world where women cannot vote? The political landscape of the entire globe would be different. So when I find these books, I don’t just find a pile of paper, I find a piece of world history. And what a history it is! These little books, handmade in the living room of an English woman, have found their way across the world- they have been in North America, South America, Europe and even Hong Kong. They have been found in libraries, in private collections, and at auction. How amazing is it that ideas, those little abstract things that niggle at our brains, can travel so far and have such an impact?


So to be part of something like this, something that illustrates and promotes the sharing of knowledge, has been such a privilege. Not only to rejoice in ideas that are, but in all those that are yet to come and be distilled among the peoples of the world.