It’s no secret that I like to read.
Okay, that’s an understatement.
With reading, with books, bookstores, all of it. There’s no one reason why. I like the look of books, the feel of books. I like the way they look sitting on my shelf. I like the way they look all neat and stacked in the bookstore.
It’s hard for me to walk past a bookstore without going in, and then, it’s hard for me to leave a bookstore empty handed.
I’m particularly fond of used book stores. A day that includes a trip to the used bookstore is probably going to be a good one for me. I could spend hours grazing the shelves, searching for books I’ve heard good things about, books by authors I like, or rare or first editions of books I already know and love.
Then there’s used book store magic. Finding a book you’ve been hunting for for months (happened last year with “Blue Highways” by William Least Heat-Moon. Recommended, by the way). Or discovering a book you’ve never even heard of but that you’re psyched to read (happened recently at Harvard Book Store with a little book called “The Feast of Love” by Charles Baxter. I’ll let you know how it turns out.).
With used books there’s always the possibility of coming across a little piece of the person who spent time with that book before you. Like a plane ticket to Tulsa that flutters to the floor when you’re halfway through. Or a friend of mine, who had a used copy of ‘High Fidelity’ with a love letter scribbled on the inside cover. It was quite extensive but essentially, this girl was proclaiming her undying love for this guy, who presumably used to own the book. No need to wonder how that relationship worked out.
Last week I had the pleasure of visiting The Strand bookstore in New York City. The Strand is one of the oldest book stores in America. Their motto is “18 miles of books,” and they’re not kidding. It was like walking in to a dream. Their fiction section went on for hours. You had to crane your neck to see the top of the shelves. They not only had a copy of every book I had on my list, but several. Different sizes, editions, prices.
Because I had a long walk back to my hotel (and I was already spending enough just being in the city, as it was), I had to limit myself to two books. Wound up taking home ‘Catch-22′ by Joseph Heller, and ‘Everything is Illuminated’ by Jonathan Safran Foer. And a nifty tote bag because, c’mon, it’s THE STRAND.
Who knows when I’ll actually get around to reading these. At last count I had about 30 books on my shelf that I hadn’t read and was planning to. I’m scared to count again but I’m guessing it’s closer to 50 now.
But that’s what I love about books most of all: they’re always there, patiently waiting for me. It’s comforting. “When you’re ready,” they say, “we’re here.”