Books. I love ‘em. I would love to have a massive ‘Downton Abbey’ style library in my home if I could. The highest number of books I think I have ever owned at one time was around fifty – far short of my massive goals. Now, I have owned far more books over time, to be sure. I have just rarely decided to keep a book longer than a year or two before I take it to a used book store to unload it and find some new goodies.
I have about twenty printed books on the shelves now and close to one hundred on my Kindle. Yep, I like e-books. Don’t get me wrong, though. Even the best e-book experience cannot replace the sensation of a printed volume. No e-book will ever be able to adequately accommodate my annotations (I can do it, by the way, it’s just a real pain in the ass). No e-book will ever have that used book smell. You know that smell. Outside of a hot, fresh pizza or a freshly bathed and lotioned baby, there is no greater smell.
There’s one book in particular that is not on my Kindle, and likely never will be – the printed copy is so precious to me. It’s Ray Bradbury’s “The Vintage Bradbury”. It was a ‘best of’, published in 1965 by Vintage Books and included 26 stories. This book sits on a shelf in my home office, in eye-shot from my desk where I often write. Of all the books I own, this is the oldest. In fact, it was the first book I ever bought with my own money. It has moved with me ever since – stashed in a box or a bag as I made my way across the country until settling down back where I started.
My father and I would often take a bus into downtown Columbus to find a place for lunch or a store to browse. One hot summer day we came across a huge used book store on High Street, a little south of the Lazarus department store. We spent what seemed like hours exploring the store. The store that lives in my memory, with bare fluorescent lighting and row after row of bins and shelves filled with all manner of books and magazines, is certainly larger than it actually was. There’s no way for me to tell, since it is no longer standing. But that’s okay. That’s not important.
What is important is that I had discovered something new (to me, anyway). I was staring at bins filled with fantastic worlds, far away places, and characters who lived great adventures or struggled through great tragedies. I was surrounded by the perfume of old books, made better by fanning the pages of an open book, releasing what I can only equate to a pheromone. Of course, I know now that it’s a result of a complex chemical breakdown that can result in floral scents that hint at almond and vanilla. Hell, you can even buy scented candles that try to capture that kind of magic. But nothing can recreate the magic that I experienced in that store on that day.
I was nine years old. I had just been given two dollars in allowance. I was with my dad and he had given me free reign to pick whatever I wanted. I held the book tightly in the paper sack, desperately trying my patience, as we rode the bus back home. And when we got there, we sat together on the couch, diving headlong into the worlds contained within pages, reading the stories out loud. Just me, dad, and Ray.