When we love to read as young people, or even before this, to be read to as children – we love stories which open up imaginative worlds and connect us to places and people we wouldn’t know in real life.
Even stories based on fact ignite the reader’s imagination, taking the reader to a place constructed in the mind. Reading is a re-creation of the story and, in this way, each reader’s experience is unique.
When I discovered my grandmother’s autograph books I entered a world which she had inhabited before I knew her. I reconstructed this world in my own mind, prompted by the writing and pictures in the book, and fuelled by questions to my mother.
I love these books because they’re full of hand-drawn pictures and poetry. Some of the poetry is the typical verse which would have been popular choices for autographs, and some has been written especially for my grandmother. My grandmother was German but born in Russia, and lived there (Odessa) until she and her family fled to Germany during WWII. And so the entries are in Russian, German or Ukrainian.
The pages of these books contain history – dates, names, warm wishes and sincere words from people who were once young and are now long gone – but they are precious to me also for their lost art of handiwork. There’s a thrill in being able to feel the paint on the page, to see the brushwork or ink, and think that somehow the traces of people long gone are kept alive within these pages.
Here’s a copy of the introductory page from an illustrated poem written about a time when my grandmother’s father was separated from the family while he was working in Siberia. In this picture you can see my grandmother as a young girl, her mother holding her baby brother and her father rushing out to meet his family, happy to see them. And the whole story is written as poetry. How special is this!
Things have changed since the times of these autograph books. Even the fact that I can scan, crop, save and upload these pictures demonstrates how technology has created possibilities. We may lament the fact that people don’t have the fine motor skills to draw as well as they used to, or the time or inclination to write poetry by hand, but we have different options for reading and writing. Now we can hear a human voice read a story, and we can read an e-book on a crowded train if we have a mobile device and headphones.
Despite the changes throughout time, stories are still stories. Storytelling is a gift and each story is created anew each time it is read. The autograph book demonstrates a lovely collection of shared sentiments, but at the same time, the technology of our time has added to the enjoyment of reading by providing audio and visual platforms for the sharing of stories. Do you lament the passing of old traditions on paper, or do you embrace the variety of multiple platforms for reading and writing?
Here’s a Second Life animation take on Yeats’ poem, The Stolen Child, by Lainy Voom.