I always have.
I love the scent of musty promise that fills the stacks in libraries. Bookstores are great too, although that smell is different — more filled with promise and freshness and risk. The sight of the bargain book table makes my heart sink a bit; I guess the writer sees more dashed hopes than the book buyer sees the chance to buy even more books. But discount or full price, gifted or checked out with a due date, books are awesome.
I love the feel of a book in my fingers and the weight of it against my knee. Hardback books are the best, but a good paperback will do in a pinch. I also love my e-reader and have passed many a lunch hour reading a book on my phone.
Middle age means I now have to approach a book with the help of my reading glasses and a brighter bulb in my lamp, but my heart still skips a little when I read a really great opening line or a breathtaking paragraph. There are books that I’ve hated to finish because I didn’t want their characters to leave me — David Copperfield and a biography of Edward R. Murrow spring instantly to mind. Frog and Toad, Nancy Drew, and the Wait for Me Kitten are among my oldest and dearest friends. Anita Shreve and Barbara Kingsolver write sentences that are so beautiful you almost want to run your fingers across them, sure they’d have a texture on the page.
I started reading hard things early. I clearly remember being appalled by the answer I received when I asked to do my “book report on a book by a famous author” on John Steinbeck’s The Red Pony and was told by my teacher that she wasn’t sure who that was and if he qualified as a famous author. I was in fifth grade. I remember around that time hiding in the front hall at home so I could read Charles Dickens without interruption. I needn’t have worried though; my family is filled with readers. To this day, if we’re all home, it’s possible that there may well be a time when everyone in the living room is reading something.
Last fall, I decided to expand my horizons and read things I wouldn’t normally read. Two books — The Big Thirst: The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water and Nagasaki: Life after Nuclear War — were my first choices, both selected so I would have something to discuss with my nephew during the holidays. [I highly recommend the water book for everyone and was deeply moved by the suffering captured in the latter.] Larry gave me A Beautiful Question: Finding Nature’s Deep Design for Christmas. This book, written by Frank Wilczek, who won the Novel Prize in quantum physics, may well be my undoing. I literally feel my brain working when I try to read it. I think that’s a good thing. I want more of that stretching of my brain, not less.
I’m interested in suggestions for must-read books, if you have any favorites you’d like to recommend. I apparently am in a nonfiction stage, probably related to the fact that my brain is also working on rewriting my own novel at the moment, but I’d certainly welcome any suggestions.
I tried to find the perfect quote to end this post. There are some great things that have been said about books and reading. Plato talks about a library of wisdom being the most valuable wealth. Proust says favorite books gave us our richest days of childhood. But it’s always good to leave ’em laughing, so I’ll stick with a favorite from Groucho Marx:
“Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.”