“Books are remote but reliable friends.”-Victor Hugo
“A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24). Books are that kind of friend. Books are always there, waiting to be opened, waiting to be read. A good book sticks closer than a brother. A great book is not merely read—it reads us. Those are the kind of books Victor Hugo is talking about.
Books are remote friends. They are outside of us. Other. We need books that come from distance places, distant times, and distance worlds. Friendly books are the ones that are different from us. Their value lies in how foreign they feel. A book that flatters us is no friend; we need confrontation from differing perspectives to grow: “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy” (Proverbs 27:6).
Books are also reliable friends. King Solomon writes, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity” (Proverbs 17:17). Great books never leave us. Their lines return to the reader in times of adversity and triumph. They reward the one who pores over them with treasures anew. Their stories and characters leech into our bones. They become the metaphors that shape our imaginations.
Virgil’s Aeneid, Danté’s Divine Comedy, Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, Hugo’s Les Misérables–classics like these have befriended men and women for centuries. They are remote enough to draw us out of our parochialism by speaking to us from foreign cultures, languages, and eras. But they have proven to be reliable companions that push us toward the truth, raise questions about life and existence, and sometimes just provide a laugh in hard times.
Ultimately, it is the essence of the book that suited it so perfectly to special revelation. God, our remote but reliable Friend, comes to us in the Scriptures. He is both transcendent and imminent, both Other and Immanuel. And he comes to meet us in the reliable Word. The pages of Scripture are not merely metaphors but history. Not merely questions, but answers. Not merely an attempt at the truth, but Truth itself.
Many of the qualities we love about the Bible–many of the qualities we love about great books–are the same qualities that make a good friend. Spending more time with great books might make you a better friend. Spending time with the Bible surely will.
Make a friend. Read a book. Then go be that kind of friend.