Originally posted Oct. 15, 2006. Inspired by a suggestion from Jane.
These are the best kind of books.
New books are nice. You walk into the bookstore, all ready to buy a book that you’ve been thinking about the whole way there. Maybe you know what you’re going to get; maybe you don’t know. You walk into the bookstore and already you’re at ease. You become completely relaxed because the one thing you can totally rely on to be there in times of need, surrounds you.
Maybe you walk to the history section, the fiction, the cookbooks, the maps, the tech, the mental health, and the religious, whatever. You know what your mood is wanting. The rows of books await you. You slide your fingers along the spines, some shiny red, matte black, white letters jumping out, calling your name to read them. After minutes of poring over titles, authors, jacket flaps, you decide on a book. Perhaps you’re finished. Perhaps you go to another section and find something else.
You walk to the counter with your prize in hand; there is nothing like acquiring a book. New, used, falling apart, borrowed, the feeling is the same. It’s an anticipation of filling your head with something new.
The bag is crisp and you grab the handle, walking out of the bookstore with confidence that you’ve chosen correctly.
That night, you open the book. Its pages are full of words waiting to be read. It smells like paper – new, old, musty, crisp. However it smelled before, it now smells like book.
You read it and you love it. You read it again. And again. You decide that you don’t need a bookmark and start dog-earing the pages, or you turn the jacket flap in to mark your spot so many times that the edges become ragged. Something strikes your eye and you make a note with your pencil; it’s your book! You can do it! It’s so well read you know the story by heart, and still you read it often.
Soon it’s falling apart. Pages are accidentally ripped out from when you jumped off the bed when the cat shoved her claws in your thigh. Once while reading it at the table, you spilled hot chocolate on the pages. You’ve read it so many times, that there are dog-ears on every other page. You forgot it on the porch railing one evening and it rained that night, then the next day you left it in the sun to dry, and its pages got all crinkly.
But you can’t throw out a perfectly good book. It’s a travesty to throw out a book. It’s wasteful and shameful and honestly, abhorrent – you don’t throw out a friend. So instead, you place it on your bookshelf in a spot of honor. You know that it will be worth something to someone eventually. They will read your notes and become enlightened; they will see the coffee stains and realize this book was loved with a passion. But you don’t want it to die.
So you go to the bookstore again, and you walk carefully to the aisle you purchased your first copy in. you stare at the spine, knowing that you are replacing a friend. Maybe to help, you buy a paperback instead of a hardcover, a 10×7 instead of a 6×4. You grab the copy quickly to ease the pain and scurry out of the bookstore, hoping no one will see how anguished you are at buying a book.
Every time you read your new copy, you glance at the old one, resting, peacefully retired on the bookshelf. Its spine watches you softly as you start the process all over again.