As an avid reader and long-time fan of Maria Popova’s BrainPickings.org – an extraordinary collection of reflections on the beauty of existence and what it means to be human – I learned about the prospective arrival of Popova’s book, affectionately deemed her “labor of love:” A Velocity of Being – Letters to a Young Reader.
Eager to secure a copy before the first set sold out, I preordered the book as soon as the link went up. I knew next to nothing about the book’s contents since there were no reviews available, but my decision to purchase the book was driven more by a desire to support Popova’s passionate devotion to safeguarding the art of reading than by the book itself. That said, the book has surpassed my expectations, and I can say with full assurance that I will treasure Velocity for the rest of my life.
Velocity includes 121 letters from “…philosophers, composers, poets, astrophysicists, actors, a 98-year-old Holocaust survior, Italy’s first woman in space, and many more remarkable humans whose splendor of spirit cannot be contained in the shorthand descriptors we often use to condense a person’s character and cultural contribution…”
The letters vary in length, tone, and style – some are a full page long, others a paragraph; some are serious, others light-hearted – but they are all inherently alike in that their authors detail how books have changed their life for the better. The authors talk of books like real, intentional people with hearts and hopes and desires – who know the authors intimately, who speak to the deepest parts of their souls, and who never fail to offer a place of solace, comfort, consolation, and peace. The 121 authors urge you, the young reader, to read, and keep reading – not because reading is an essential life skill (though it is), but because reading is an invaluable and incomparable gift with the power to heal, embolden, and empower.
One of my favorite letters is by Alain de Botton, a Swiss-born British philosopher and author, in which he likens a good book to a faithful and dependable companion:
We wouldn’t need books quite so much if everyone around us understood us well. But they don’t. Even those who love us get us wrong. They tell us who we are but miss things out. They claim to know what we need, but forget to ask us properly first. They can’t understand what we feel-and sometimes, we’re unable to tell them, because we don’t really understand it ourselves and to others, and make us feel less strange, less isolated, and less alone. We might have lots of good friends, but even with the best friends in the world, there are things that no one quite gets. That’s the moment to turn to books. They are friends waiting for us any time we want them, and they will always speak honestly to us about what really matters. They are the perfect cure for loneliness. They can be our very closest friends.
As if 121 beautifully written letters by some of the most influential figures of the century were not enough, each letter is accompanied by truly praiseworthy works of art, which I believe to be just as valuable as the letters they bring to life.
“A text is a trail of its writer’s imagination. It is the remnant of one planet being found by another (you). & if there are diamonds here, dear reader, it is because you made them.”
– Aracelis Girmay
“I want to tell you something interesting about reading books. It’s that books are about possible worlds-not just the worlds we know well. They goad us to go beyond the familiar, to consider not just the here-and-now but the might-be.”
– Jerome Bruner
“So long as you have books to read and time and attention to give them, you will never be lonely, and your mind will always be free.”
– Maria Bustillos
As Popova states, A Velocity of Being is “…an atlas of possibility for the land of being mapped through the land of literature.” I have no doubt that Velocity will arouse and inspire readers – young and old – to pick up a book, delve deep into its pages, and let themselves be transported to a world unlike their own.
(Unfortunately, the price of the book has substantially increased since I purchased it in December, but here’s the link for those who are interested.)