Wednesday, April 15, 2009

where I disappear into a book

Our high school librarian was a charm. We were in admiration of her skills. Not only was she young and very personable, she knew everybody by name. She also somehow knew which class you were skipping if you turned up at an 'odd' hour, or lingered too long. This was not a small school, we were over 2,000 students. But if you asked her about a book for a class, she could probably remember who had it and when it was due back. She was our Katharine Hepburn of Desk Set.

I am reminded of her, and many independent booksellers, when I ask for a book in Chapters or Indigo. Where the staff will immediately walk to a computer terminal to look up the title/author and if you don't remember it, well, it could be a fruitless search with you being ultimately led in the general direction of where you might find your request. My favourite booksellers are the ones who can decipher a "I read a review in the Globe about something about (insert semi-remembered description)" or "I heard a book review on CBC on Sunday..." and they know what you are talking about. These people love books. They breathe books.

I used to buy a lot of books. The cost has made buying sprees a bit more prohibitive than in the past. And I've never bought anything from Amazon. I'm more of a browser. Put me in a room with shelves of books, and I can't help myself. I twist my head to read the spines, I pull interesting book titles down, I fondle covers, I flip pages. I sniff books. There is something about the musty smell of old books that is comforting. And also the still strong ink and paper smells of newly printed pages. To be the first to open a book and begin reading... and to open an old book, especially one of prose or poetry, and have it fall open at a favourite passage of the previous owner, is a silent thrill of discovery. I have discovered great new reads that would never have occurred to me just by being attracted to a title, the first paragraph, a description on the cover flap. And I've even judged a book by its cover. I have not bought books that didn't feel right. I used to have small collections of books that had different covers, because the idea intrigued me of other artists renderings of the tale. If I start a series, I have to buy the rest in the series until it is complete, or it will irritate me, even if I didn't particularly like the third book, or whatever. A teeny, tiny bit of OCD.
A friend and I share books regularly, she more than me, because, I couldn't tell you the last time I read a book in its entirety. I have piles of them gathering dust by my bed. The cat uses them as a stepping stool to get herself up on the mattress (she's a bit lazy, why jump when you can risk falling by climbing). Still, I went to the library last week and came home with several books to rekindle my reading habits.
Which is why I haven't been around as much, or posting as much.
And from the book store, a new release, Sandra Gulland and her tale of 'Louise de la Valliere, the young equestrienne who won the heart of France's charismatic Sun King'.

I have coffee waiting at my favourite coffee house and my book to read so, later......

in honour of National Library Week.


  1. Yes, I know those kind of "librarians" - they seem to exist in every school - haha. Well, since I share book shelves with hubby, we have many that I would not read, but there are none that "don't feel right", like you say, because we have a similar kind of intuition. I threw away all my Dutch books though, because we outgrew them. Also, I needed more book space:)
    Except for the children's books, because my oldest was 12 when we left many moons ago.

  2. Ohhh, everything you said about browsing in book stores is true for me too.

    I just started reading regularly again in the last couple of months. Right now it's The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. I don't know why I haven't read this one yet, as everyone who reads has been talking about it. I'm only about 60 pages in and so hooked. I can tell already that it's one of those books that you don't ever want to end.

  3. Yesterday I stumbled across a used bookstore I didn't know existed. It didn't look like it would be particularly good~ it was very tidy, short bookshelves (instead of reaching for the ceiling), almost sparse. No cats in the rafters...

    How wrong I was. This man had picked out the cream of the crop, in every section. I don't mean bestsellers, but gems hard to find on crammed shelves in other stores. And his prices were beyond reasonable. And he's been there for twenty years.

    I bought five books~ halfway through one already.

    I've noticed alot of people 'of a certain age' turning to books and turning off the computer, in the last month or so. I read that internet use alters how our brain works~ so that contemplative thinking is short circuited. However, the brain can be re-wired by, like you, I am.

    Great post!

  4. Hi Violet,
    yes I love to browse and read the cover blurbs but I also buy from amazon as books are up to $30 here for a novel. I get all my art books from Amazon and even if I pay for speedy delivery they still work out cheaper.
    I always read in bed no matter how late it is and like you have many books on the go but do finish most...

  5. Jeannette: I finally thinned out my bookshelves - anything I knew I would never read again or that could get from a library if I ever wanted to read again was donated. I still don't have enough room.

    Sometimes, I find a book that just doesn't have the right font, or paper, or heft, or something. Then I will wait for a different printing that may suit better. Sounds silly, I know, but it makes a difference to the enjoyment of the book.

  6. Susan: feels good doesn't it, to get stuck into a good read? will have to look that one up.

  7. I'm a sucker for a bookshop, so are my kids happily! When we were away in Australia at Xmas almost everytime we ventured to a mall they would head to the nearest bookshop, me in tow of course if I wasn't leading the charge. I do love pre-loved books as well, and my friends from Australia always head to Smiths Bookshop when they're here in Christchurch!

  8. Robin: how exciting! I love finding treasures such as those.

    hmmm, you, me and Susan - all of a 'certain age', eh!! perhaps true.
    I haven't read much since I started blogging.

  9. Delwyn: I'm a slow starter to trends. Actually, I have considered Amazon for certain books that are too expensive, because I refuse to pay so much money on what may end up being a decorative object. It is incredible how many books I have that I still want to read but never allow the time.

  10. Sagittarian: I always buy my friends' kids books when I buy them anything. It is great fun to sit in childrens literature and see what is new (and old, but forgotten).

  11. I dont read as much as I used to read- reading too much info on the net!! I long ago stopped reading a book if it didnt grab me, because I realise there are so many wonderful books out there, so why waste time on one you don't enjoy. Life is too short!!

  12. Having read many books from the library at first when I got here, I am now working on my own collection and buy them on line, because it's a lot cheaper. I am on a budget and can afford two inexpensive books a month. My bookcase is filling up and soon I will need a second one. It will look very empty at first, that will be the hard part. I will be patient, however, and I know that over time it will fill up.

  13. About the paper--sometimes I will buy a book just because I love the feel of the paper it's printed on, even if I don't have much interest in the subject. Isn't that crazy?

  14. Meggie: I know, blogging takes up so much time! And I agree, I get impatient with books that take too long to 'grab' my attention.

    Irene: an empty bookcase would be just crying to be filled. I spread my books out and put vases in the empty spaces until I had no room for the vases.

  15. Susan: exactly!and it is no more crazy than buying a book based on its beautiful cover.

  16. Enjoy your books and fer cryin' out loud - finish them!
    I really liked my high school librarian. Our study hall teachers were only allowed a certain amount of library passes per class, but I had one study hall full of morons so I went to the library almost every day. I think the librarian found me interesting because I was always listening to show tunes and reading magazines.

  17. I love browsing in second hand or independent book stores - not that there are many of the latter left. Chapters just doesn't quite do it for me, though I'll often end up there for lack of anything else. I think that's why I often buy online, if I know exactly what I want, I'll just save the hassle of the huge bookstore...

  18. Add me to the list of people who could happily browse in a bookstore an entire day - and then maybe not even buy anything. But I'd be back again the next day just in case something new came in!

  19. Geewits: with patio weather almost here, that will help me finish.

    Jazz: I used to enjoy Indigo for their coffee and free reads. Then they switched to Starbucks (yech) and got rid of the comfy chairs. I still go occasionally, to read the magazines. I get my local independent bookseller to order a book if it'll be close to the same price as Indigo/Chapters - I'd rather give them my business.

    Pinklea: ah, another ever hopeful browser!

  20. P.S. I am still posting. Blogger has a problem and my new posts are not being feed to other bloggers' bloglists so it appears as if I am stuck with Florence!

    I am feeling very lonely today!

  21. VS - I used to do that too. We had an independent bookstore right next door and I basically lived there. I'd go there sometimes and Elizabeth would ask whether I was looking for something, to which I'd reply that none of the books I had at home felt right. She'd always find me some cool book by an obscure bulgarian author which was exactly the perfect read. The woman (and her clerks) had a gift.

    When they opened a Renaud-Bray (a french equivalent to chapters) I'd browse there and bring my order to Elizabeth. Of course, eventually the big store got the better of them. Again. *sigh*

  22. Jazz: we have a rather successful though small bookstore that has a good reading/lecture series and hosts breakfasts with authors and book signings, which Indigo doesn't do much of anymore.

  23. I'm still pushing myself forward on reading books. I tend to read articles more than books, and I think it's what you said about yourself: because I have so many started and unfinished books, maybe there is satisfaction in actually finishing articles.

    I've been reading The Ambassadors since fall, haven't picked it up for a few weeks. It's ok, I know it's there, waiting. One problem is I get 6 months to check out a book from our university library. That doesn't help.

    Anyway, I love to buy books, I'm just not as good at actually reading them long term. And sometimes I get what I need/want in the first chapter!

  24. Ruth: 6 months is way too much time, for me as well!! I do read more in the summer when I can sit outside in a park or on a patio. (no laptop as distraction, for me)

  25. I just realized I could have taken a book outside today - d'oh! It was beautiful. But I did hang three loads of laundry. Heaven.

  26. Ruth: at least you were outside...

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