There is a book store, downtown, near my work. Its a small book store, more aptly described as a hole in the wall with a fancy door. The sign isn’t flashy, nor are the window displays. Its modest, and kind of hidden. Other descriptors that come to mind are quaint, cozy, warren-like, magical, eclectic, fantastical, exciting, … I could go on.
Inside are shelves and stacks and piles and towers of used books. Spines stick out at all angles and levels, their titles jostling for space on the over-filled rungs. One side fiction, the other side non-fiction. But I don’t know if that organization holds sway for the whole shop. In the far corner, a closed glass curio case holds first editions that look dog-eared, and waiting for their new home with someone who cherishes possessions of value such as a much-loved antique book.
I walked in today with giddiness. I had noticed the sign while out perusing the local kitchen gadget store, and from the deep annals of my memories came the recognition of the store’s name. Its been there awhile, over 20 years, I would think. My father used to buy books here, I remember, when he worked downtown. How exciting for it to be so close! How distracting to my lunch hour time limit! How draining on my limited spending allowance…
As I walked in among the rows, that typical musty smell emanated from the books, wrapping me in a comfort that I cannot compare. It is unlike a steaming cup of coffee, or a warm sweater on a fall day. It is nothing like a strong hug, soft touch, or amorous cuddle. It is a sense of comfort that can only come from the written word, bound in leather or thick paper, begging to be taken hold of, opened, and devoured. A book held in the hand can bring relaxation and peace like chai tea on a rainy Sunday afternoon.
I scanned the spines, looking for something to catch my eye, to say “Pick me! Oh, pick me! Take me home and run your fingers through my pages, trace my chapters, learn from my contents.”
I am always drawn to certain types of books when I am in a used book store. It seems strange, since I love to read all types, I enjoy a good story, told well. But when I am in a used books store, I gravitate to the non-fiction sections. I relish coffee-table books, I appreciate reference books. Glossy pictures of gardens, beautiful displays of artifacts, detailed diagrams of castles, useful herbal recipes, and interesting craft procedures.
These all make my pulse quicken.
I specifically scrounge for books on Roman Britain, or British history, castles, landscapes… anything resenbling a book about mouldering old relics of a time past that brings to mind the romance of knights and Feudal society. I instinctively look for books on a period in history much maligned to be beautiful and carefree, but in fact, was barbaric, dark, and dangerous. I get giddy thinking of the books I have yet to find on Hadrian’s Wall, Stonehenge, Dark Ages life, or ancient Christianity and its passage through the Roman Empire.
I remember once, in a wonderful used book store that is now gone, I sat in an old rickety chair, the resident cat winding her self about my legs, and I leafed through a book called “The Aurthurian Book of Days” (which happened to fall out on my toe as I rummaged the History shelf). Every day of the year had a page, and each page had a story except as told from Le Morte D’Arthur, or other such tales of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. I was transfixed. It made it into the pile at the check out, along with several other books on Roman antiquities, and a long-sought after book on Vindolanda.
Another time, as I was perusing, I happened across an older book on herbs. I thought it was interesting, began to open it, and then jumped for joy when I realized it was one of Jekka McVicar’s Herb books that was now out of print! The forward was by a woman named Penelope Hobhouse, another great in British Gardening books. It seems all of the best herbal books come from Britain. I have yet to find their equal here in Canada. (Any suggestions?)
I practically ran to the cash register with that one, my eyes shining and excitment evident, my fingers wrapped around the cover tightly. Yes, really. Books can make me that happy.
To (re)discover this small shop today, so close a walk from my office, rekindled in me the passion of the hunt for that special book to add to my collection. A book of Welsh poetry, or perhaps a glossy table book of perrenial flowers or succulents. A tome on the merits of seed propagation over cuttings, or a detailed account of some archeological dig somewhere exciting like Mai-Dun. Or perhaps even a long sought after book on writing no longer in print! The possibilities to add to my home library are endless.
Too endless. I need more bookshelves already. So for that, a new decree. My mantra, to repeat each lunch hour.
May I resist temptation, and stick to No-More-Than-Once-A-Week.