“He [the writer] is careful of what he reads, for it is what he will write. He is careful of what he learns, because that is what he will know.”- Annie Dillard, “The Writing Life”
As cabin fever started to set in, my mom and I decided that today would be the day for brief errands. In addition to getting the fixings for a yummy quiche for later this evening, we stopped by our favorite used bookstore (run by our local public library). My grandma, who is in nursing care, was in need of “new” large-print reading material.
Our neighborhood road is still not plowed in places, with wet gnarled branches littering the snow banks on the sides of the street. The bookstore parking lot was empty except for our Jeep, but the shop light miraculously flickered to life as we ambled out into the cold.
I should tell you… I’m a book junkie. I’d say I’ve read about a third of the books in my collection, and I’m constantly picking up new things wherever I go. The bookshelves in my family’s home are bowed in the middle, packed horizontally and vertically, and braced with other stacks packed in front of the original row. For those of you out there who love the smell of yellowing pages and soft-thumbed corners, you know that there is no greater paradise than a “good” used bookstore.
As my mom went in search of large-print Reader’s Digest collections, I headed for literary criticism (a shelf I usually never touch) and poetry. Before long, I ended up with a short stack of thin delights: T.S. Eliot’s “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats,” Dylan Thomas’s “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog,” Annie Dillard’s “The Writing Life,” and Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s “A Far Rockaway of the Heart.”
Old books= new friends.
Old books have the potential to yield stories not printed on the page. I once found a perfectly preserved maple leaf in a 19th century grade school reader. I discovered extensive handwritten notes on loose-leaf paper wedged in the back of my Ezra Pound collection. For those of you who frequently seek out used books, how often are you tempted to investigate the previous owner? I once read a magazine article that featured a woman who made an argument against used books. In so many words, she said, “I don’t know where they’ve been.” Seriously?
Perhaps I just have an overactive imagination, fueled by fiction about books (“People of the Book” and “The Shadow of the Wind” ). I like to speculate on the shelf history of my reading material. A crazy cat lady owned my T.S. Eliot and a young hipster college student shoved Dylan Thomas in his back pocket on a long bus ride to New York…. Perhaps this is an unhealthy habit, but it hasn’t killed me yet.
God bless used bookstores. They make it easy for me to continue my literary binges.
Enjoy the weekend and Happy reading!