On the Permanence of Books

I’ve led a geographically stationary life. I currently live twenty minutes from where I went to high school. Aside from being born in Maine, this is the farthest I’ve ever lived from my childhood home.

I’ve patronized the same public library my whole life. Much about it has changed over the years. Once upon a time it was a lovely (and tremendous) old house, stone on the outside, little alcoves and mismatched chairs on the inside. At one point it was renovated, and now is much bigger, with a decidedly more modern feel. Some of the same chairs remain, but none of my favorite hiding spots.

Not in the adult section at least. The children’s section has stayed largely unchanged. Same old stuffed animals arranged along the upper shelves, same benches, same built-in wooden shelves.

Same books too. My children are reading age now, and little excites them as much as a trip to the library. Many of the books they choose are new, but some are not. Some are weathered old hardcovers that have lived on those shelves for as long as I’ve been visiting them.

Last year my son took out My Friend Flicka. It was the first book he’d read that changed his world. As a parent, I could see it happen, I could see that for him it was magic.

For me, it was magic in a different way. That book–that old, taped, green volume, its pages worn soft as cloth with time–I knew that book. I’d held that book as a child. I’d curled up with it, read it, cried over it. It probably still held crumbs in the binding from when I’d sit at the table eating lunch and reading. His hands, mine, we’d shared the feel of that battered old book.

My house can no longer hold all my books. Slowly, painfully, I’ve been shedding my collection, trying to make room for children’s books, for games and puzzles and art supplies. It’s hard to let go of them, my old paperbacks held together by failing glue, with pages stained with tears or chocolate, with passages underlined by my teenage hand.

I understand the arguments for e-readers. As a reader, I’ve only to look at my own cramped house to see one valid reason to switch. As a writer, I see how e-publishing is revolutionizing the field.

As I sort through my books though, logic fails me. Some are weightless, their only impact on my life as a few hours of entertainment on a rainy day. But some…all I can say is that magic lingers in their pages.

Advertisements

Comments are disabled.

%d bloggers like this: