Books in the Middle Ages were treasures. Not everyone owned a book, usually only royalty or those wealthy enough to afford a scribe to hand-write a book for them. These books were beautiful, no two books alike. It could take up to a year to hand-write a book–scribes and their patrons were nothing if not patient. Each page featured gorgeous script. The first word of each chapter featured a stylized, jewel-toned capital letter. Often a scene from the story was entwined around that first letter–a great, painstaking effort, in order to bring to life a creation which was, itself, a work of art. The visual appeal of the book was as compelling as the story or poetry contained within the covers. A treat for the senses, these handmade books delighted both the eye and the hand. Owning a book was a status symbol as well as a sensual experience.
When Johannes Gutenberg presented the concept of movable type in the 1430s, the Western world of books and publishing took a monumental leap forward in many ways. (N.B.: the Koreans and Chinese had created a printing press before Gutenberg, but its popularity didn’t spread like wildfire, as did Gutenberg’s invention.) Sure, his first Bible was the Vulgate and it was in Latin, so the audience was restricted to those educated in the language. But still, this was a huge step for Western society: with the printing press came a world of possibilities, theretofore not even considered by the world’s people. It was now possible to communicate an idea to many people simultaneously. Absolutely unfathomable–science fiction became simply, science.
Books could now be created several at a time. The audience widened, as books were no longer the exclusive domain of the wealthy. Literacy blossomed, and Western society moved forward (for better and for worse). It boggles the mind to ponder the idea that, from that
one-scribe, one-book idea grew our current world of book production and sales. The fact that Amazon.com and other online bookstores can get millions of books into readers’ hands every day–this is a miracle, and the direct descendant of Gutenberg’s visionary work.
I am a self-professed bibliophile. I love books. I mean, I looooooooove books. I love the touch of them, and their visual beauty. There’s almost no joy quite as great as acquiring a new book, and being the first to deflower it. No one cracks the spine of my books–that pleasure is for me, and me alone. I don’t listen to books on CD or tape–that’s a travesty. The only people who should listen to books on tape are visually or otherwise physically impaired, or the elderly. (How, I ask you, can you listen to Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier while you’re driving in midtown Manhattan–and get the nuances and subtleties? To feel the sensuality, conflict and fears in protagonist Griet’s soul as you’re utterly distracted by the screaming of yellow cabs; seagull-like pedestrians, swooping in front of you and the cacophony of Times Square?)
The answer is that you can’t, and anyone who says they can is lying to themselves. Our techno-mad society tries to convince us that we can do everything simultaneously, and therefore we need the technologies that they offer. Technologies which will be outdated and replaced in six months, when we’ll once-again be forced by our techaddiction to buy the latest and the greatest. Running around like so many ants on a discarded watermelon rind, we have voluntarily surrendered to the wills of others: it’s easier to go-along, to become tech-savvy and, in the process, lose possession of our very souls as we hand over the ability to think for ourselves.
Griet cannot be experienced fully in the aural arena: she is one literary character–one of millions–who must be read. Massaged. Drunk-in. Understood, embraced, envied, pitied. And none of these emotions can come into play when we have at least one hand on the steering wheel; one wrapped around a cig or Big Gulp and at least one eyeball on the road. Griet and all the other great personalities of literature demand that we take the time to develop the relationship, to get to know them. “Wham, bam” is not allowed. Courtship is required. We may come out on the other side loving them or hating them–but at least we gave them the full measure of our attention if we’ve actually read their stories.
And Kindle–don’t’ even go there. A step up from books on CD or tape, at least you’re looking at the pages of an actual book. But still a bastardization of the original concept. I’m sure that, even as I write this, some moron, somewhere, is finding a way for us to “read” Kindled pages while we’re driving. And once again, reading becomes a distraction, a potential accident-causer–and not the luxurious, sensuous, indulgent experience that is understood by we who genuinely value the written word.
If, as Buddha said, “Thoughts are things,” then how much moreso are words, themselves, things? One word can fell a society. One well-placed, perfectly-executed word–like a newly-sharpened claymore–can slice through to the Truth with one sweep of the arm. Words are things, and they give rise to other things, like revolutions, justice and transcendent joy.
How can one truly enjoy a book if one cannot hold it, feel the nerve endings of the fingers lingering gingerly, lovingly, over each page? I don’t read a book and then hand it on–sorry. I need to write in the margins, to take notes. I need to make the book truly mine, adding my own words and thoughts to those put forth by the author.
Precisely this reason–my respect for the word on paper, and the visual and emotional connection to those words–is why I am enamoured of Horsenameographies: Life Stories in a Race Horse Name by Lovers of Horses Everywhere. This is the new book put forth by Caballo Press of Ann Arbor. The same publisher who in 2009 gave us the Dr. Tony Lyon Book Award-winning The Untold Story of Joe Hernandez: The Voice of Santa Anita ushers in 2010 with a fun romp, a spirited and spiritual ride through the very souls of horselovers who’ve chosen race horse names for themselves. In the pages of Horsenameographies, we see, hear, feel and understand some very difficult journeys. We get to vicariously experience unfettered joy, and share the triumphs of others. Horsenameographies is not just a collection of names and artful black-and-white photography: this book gives to readers the opportunity to learn, to grow and to ponder:
What would your name be, were you a race horse?
If you had just one chance to etch it in stone, as it were, you wouldn’t pick some flip name that made you look like a fool for all time and eternity. You’d think hard and long, realizing the seriousness of the question. What racing name would you want on your gravestone? A solemn thought, indeed.
I am eager to wrap my hands, my eyes and my heart around this book. To run my hand over its cover, and almost prayerfully peel back that cover to reveal the words contained therein. My eager eyes await the joy of viewing beautiful words, painstakingly edited by the publisher to jumpstart the heart; to wash the eyes in beauty and cause the mind and the cranium to really, truly think.
If it reads that I’m waxing on as if courting a lover–indeed, I am. Every new book has the potential to take us to that place where Truth, God and the Universe cross paths. Every book is a potential gateway to thought, causing us to consider how this may play out in our own lives. Every new tome holds the potential to change a life–it may be that just one single, perfect, beautiful word within that tome is sitting, waiting patiently for us to discover it. The process demands that we read the book from beginning to end–skipping around will not allow us to find that word that seeks us unless we take the time, make an investment, in drinking in each word to see which is the one that has been set aside just for us.
The fact that the editors made this book visually beautiful is what ties together the art of the thing. Starting with the cover, which features names surrounded by rectangular colors and numbers–you’ll recognize them as the colors of saddle towels for a Thoroughbred race–and all through the 280 pages–your eyes will feast and dance. The fact that the photos are in black-and-white drives home the message that this book is about the core, the center of one’s being. And my writerly mind was blown when I realized that each and every one of the names contained herein–are assigned their own font. Font, to those of us who adore books and hold them with the embrace of a lover, is part of the experience of discovering a new book. The texture of the paper, itself, with a font that draws us in, is an important part of the visual, spiritual appeal of any book. A book that features a different font for every entry–a font that was carefully, prayerfully considered, to respect each person represented–well, that is remarkable. Each font, each placement on a page, was so lovingly considered that not only will those who contributed realize that they are being honoured–each of us who reads the book will feel similarly revered.
I am blessed to preview Horsenameographies: Life Stories in a Race Horse Name by Lovers of Horses Everywhere. This book will be fun at parties, at a day at the races–but once the fun is done, and your copy is tucked neatly into your bookshelf–you will bring it out often as you think,
“What is my name?” “Who am I, and who would I be as a Champion Thoroughbred?” “What would be my font, and which photo sums up my life?”
It is important to me, that you get as excited about Horsenameographies as I. I get nothing, no kickback, for seeing you chomping at the bit. My desire to share this with you is strictly magnanimous in its nature. I want you to become as jazzed as I about this book because it will be good for you. And I want you to run to Libros Caballo, the online bookstore at www.caballopress.com, to pre-order your copies of Horsenameographies. On January 14th, you can click onto Libros Caballo and do just that.
Yes, I am eager to hold my own copy, to see the names and stories of friends and not-yet-friends unfold before my eye. I am in love with the concept of this book, and know that you, too, will be enamoured with the finished product. We will use it as a tool to grow our own lives, to ponder our own stories and, inspired, create names that befit us as we charge ahead and win our own liferaces.
(If you don’t like the name that would best fit your life right now–perhaps that is the Divine Tweak, to change your life direction, and thereby gain a name with which you fully identify.)
Read about Crème Brulee, and why a pastry chef-turned-horse sees herself thus. Simple but Elegant writes a short tale, but one which will bring tears to your eyes. You’ll go back and read her tale of a tail often. Who is Birdseedmagoo, and why will this name bless you? Remember to emphasize the first syllable when you read Birthingirl, and you’ll feel the strength of that womanhorse. And then there’s Silent Warrior, a hero’s name if ever I read one. The names, the people, the stories–one will find its way into your spirit, and take up residence there. You may try to find the person on Facebook, and tell them how much that name meant to you. You will take that name, play with it, substitute many letters and, inspired to share yourself with the world–decide to enter your race horse name in Volume II.
Horsenameographies: Life Stories in a Race Horse Name by Lovers of Horses Everywhere is a gift from Caballo Press of Ann Arbor to everyone who loves horses. To everyone who’s yet to meet a horse, but for whom the lore of racing heroes has always been in the background. To those who’ve never met a horse, are afraid of horses–but who realizes that there’s an innate strength, power, majesty and perfection in the wings of Pegasus–and who wants a piece of that glory.
Wrapped in platinum, with a bow made of golden stars, this book will bring us to our knees and to tears of joy. But the most compelling thing that this book will do is move each reader to settle down for a while and genuinely go within. I’m not one for overly sentimental stew, so you know that the words I write are from the ground of my being. And I tell you, as a writer, a
horse lover and as an Alpha Mare who wants to help shield you from the storms and guide you to safety–this book will bless you immeasurably, and help you grow the garden that is your beautiful Life.
As always, May the Horse be with You.
Libros Caballo at Caballo Press of Ann Arbor: