Monday, June 29, 2009

Read This...

I've been thinking about books lately. Books I'm reading. Books other people are reading. Books we all want to read. Books we tell other people we've read, even though we haven't. Books.

I love books. I don't mind reading things online. I love blogs and find some wonderful writing out there. I would adore a Kindle. (hint hint) But I love books. I love how they feel in my hand, paper under my fingertips, how the print unfurls across the page, taking my eye and my imagination with it. I have a hard time passing up any bookstore, even if I know I don't need to buy any more books. I have spent many happy hours with books.

I don't even remember when this love affair began, but I know my mother was behind it. One of the few things I could do as a child to get my mother's complete and undivided attention was to ask her to read to me. I can open A Child's Garden of Verse or Wind in the Willows and hear her voice reading to me. There was magic in those stolen moments. A magic I would later share with my daughter.

Then there was my town library. I got my library card at 5. You had to be able to write your name and then the card was yours. It was a little blue card, about the size of a Post-it note square, with my name typed on it and a little metal embossed plate that was my number. I remember it being placed in my hand and being told I could go pick out any books that I wanted to read. I knew the ones I wanted. The Piggle-Wiggles and Poohs. I scooped them all up and walked toward the check out desk, struggling to keep the stack from falling. And then the librarian told me I could only have 3 books. I could get more when I brought those 3 back. But I would have to choose.

It was agony to choose. To have to look at those shiny covers and decide which ones could wait. It would be a whole week until I could come back. But I made my choices and started to take the others back to place them on the shelf. The librarian stopped me and said that the grown-ups had to put the books back to be sure they went in the right places. Just one more thing I would have to wait to do...until I was a grown up.

Week after week, I went back and chose my 3 books. A lifetime later - it was probably only a couple of months but it felt like a lifetime to me - I was doing my usual shuffle of choices, trying to get down to 3 books. My mother was impatiently waiting, trying to hurry me along. She had other things to do that day than be in the library. I couldn't imagine what was more important than choosing books. I was down to 6 books, but it just seemed impossible to choose. Then a miracle happened. The librarian came over and said she would put a special note on my card saying I could take as many books as I wanted.

It was as if the world opened up to me on that day. As the years went by, I spent many hours in that library. We didn't have Amazon.com. And the small town I lived in had only one stationer's with a few books, mostly best sellers. I started every summer vacation with a trip to the library. First I found the only copy of The World of Pooh. Then I went to the A authors and began to work my way through the library. I remember how thrilled I was to reach T. H. White and Herman Wouk. I was just as much a fixture in my school library. I frequently chose the library over the playground at lunch time. By the time I reached high school, I knew my Dewey decimals...I prowled the 800 section. I read plays by Coward, Williams, O'Neill, Hellman. I read autobiographies of David Niven and Groucho Marx. Poetry, essays, literary criticism.

One of my first jobs was in a bookstore. I worked noon to closing. On slow nights, I sat at the register and read the hardbacks I wasn't able to take home. Here's where I got to read The Joy of Sex and Anais Nin, books my mother would never have allowed me to take home.

I moved to Portland in 1980. One of my first trips was to Powell's City of Books. In there I found a rare book that my family has treasured because it mentions my grandmother as a child performer. Since I lived downtown and didn't know anyone in Portland yet, Powell's was where I spent many hours, wandering the dusty musty aisles in search of hidden treasures. Those of you who know Powell's now, it just isn't the same as it was in those days.

My next trip was to the Central Library. I entered the grand building with the sweeping marble staircase and was immediately in love. In those days, you could wander the stacks. Dimly lit rooms with narrow aisles. Row upon row of bookcases loaded to overflowing.

I am heartened to know that there are still people who read books. People who browse aisles of books stores and stacks of libraries. People who read to their children. People who read poetry and short stories and essays. People who know the romance of a book in the hand. People who feel the page under the fingertip and smell the dust of ages in the spine of used books.

I love books. And now, if you'll excuse me, I have some books to add to my list on Goodreads. And maybe a trip to Powell's after work.

1 comment:

Bridgete said...

I love that you passed this love on to me. I made a special stop in Cambridge last week just to go to the Harvard Bookstore. I once called Megan telling her to rescue me because I walked into a Barnes and Noble to wait for her, but I had no extra money to spend and needed to make it out of there without a book. I remember that day because it was the one time I made it out of any bookstore without a book.

Next time you're here we need to go into the Boston library. You'll love it. It's better than Central.

And while Powell's might not be the same as it was before...it's still a book lover's paradise.