To feel at home

This 12th-century manuscript was discovered in 1963 in a false floor over the library of Engelberg in alpine Switzerland, Engelberg, Stiftsbibliothek, Cod. 1005

Many of the books printed today will never be read. Many of the books made in the Middle Ages were never read. Many weren’t read for centuries, abandoned on shelves and lost in time. When they were discovered, they changed the course of culture. When people started reading them, things weren’t going to be the same.

The cultural capital of a society is always in need of renewal, of rediscovery, of grafting and cross-fertilization.

The bestsellers list is always welcome, but the invisible shelf, the abandoned bookcase, the buried library needs traffic as well. The old notes need to be sung again, if only to reassess the pitch of new ones.

Literacy is not just about the ability to read and write – it is also about the ability to find one’s way in a variety of landscapes, to make sense of different horizons and feel at home in unfamiliar sceneries. Illiteracy is booming out there, with more and more landscapes and idioms being lost every day to complacency and ‘what’s-the-point’ abdications.

To feel at home away from home is to welcome the sight of the unknown and the sound of the unfamiliar, with awe and excitement.

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