She breathed deeply of the decaying fiction, disintegrating history, and forgotten verse, and she observed for the first time that a room full of books smelled like dessert: a sweet snack made of figs, vanilla, glue, and cleverness.
I’ve had a love of books since I was in kindergarten. The story goes that one of my teachers told my parents that I was below average in reading and that – when I found that out – I was determined to prove that they were wrong. I attended early one-on-one reading with my teachers and I’ve been a heavy reader – sometimes voracious – ever since.
When I was in junior high and high school, I was always tired in the morning and difficult to wake. What my parents probably didn’t realize is that I would read in bed until 1, 2, or even 3 in the morning. I would often finally fall asleep with the book in my hands and have to spend a quarter of an hour the next day trying to find where I left off (I’ve never been good at remembering the page number I was last on).
I would even read books while walking – and even while riding my bicycle – on my way to and from school.
As such, I’ve also had a great love of places where books reside, with a special fondness for libraries.
Although bookstores – new and used – hold a lot of magic with the titillating idea of being able to actually own a book – libraries have always been the ultimate book mecca for me. It is partly due to their reverence for the actual books and not for making money. They are like a local small church surviving off of the grace of others while bookstores are televangelists more interested in selling you something, whether you actually want it or not.
And libraries have always held special sensory input not found elsewhere. It can vary by library, depending upon how diligently they clean, but there is still always the musty smell of old paper, dust, and sense that anything I could ever want to know or understand lies somewhere waiting to be discovered.
If you’ve been to your local public library lately, they are changing a lot – even if slowly – due to the advent of the digital age. Fewer quiet areas as kids haven’t been taught to respect the need for silence of the older book-loving generations. More movies and audiobooks (though I’m a big fan of both) and fewer isles of actual books in print. I can even check out e-readers at my libary now, rather than paper books.
But there are still a lot of diehards, such as myself, who know the magic of the world resides in libraries and that digital media doesn’t have it.
Many would argue it’s the loss of the tactile feel of paper or the ease of print to the eyes, but I think it’s more the solid reality of a book versus the temporary nature of digital media. When something is devoid of physical substance – like an e-book – to root the intangible magic of the words, the respect for it is lost.
I have a growing collection of audiobooks and I know I’ll someday get an e-book reader, but I’ll never lose my love of tangible books and of libraries as temples to their magic.