Monday, April 7, 2008

Sniff Any Good Books Lately?

This sweet little picture book by Michael Shoulders, and illustrator Teri Weidner, got me thinking about people's relationships with books. Each person in the new baby bear's life connects with him through a favorite book. Of course, after each character reads - mom, dad, brother, aunt, uncle, grandma and grandpa - their special alone time evolves into a practice session in which they coach the new baby into saying their name! Each wants his/her name to be that first, precious word uttered by the new baby.

We all use books for different purposes, and we all relate to them in different ways, and for different reasons. My friend, Pat, is a book sniffer. When LaDeDa first opened eleven years ago, she made me promise that she could open the very first box of books that arrived. On the big day, Pat carefully razored open that first treasure chest of printed gold, then lifted each book out ever so gently, ran her hand lovingly over each cover, and finally opened it and sniffed. I had never seen anything like it before. Well, it seems that Pat is not alone. After we were up and running, several customers made comments about nothing being better than the scent of new books. One day, a mom and son came in. The boy, who was about nine, was studying the literary fiction selections when mom began apologizing profusely. He was opening each book. sticking his nose in and inhaling deeply. She was embarassed, and I think, considering getting him into therapy ASAP. I assured her there was nothing to be concerned about. He was not alone in his joy. Besides that, didn't we all indulge in whiffing those wonderful mimeod handouts elementary teachers used back in the stone age? It must trigger the same endorphins as that new car smell.

Not to lead you astray about Pat - she is a voracious reader, and I am often embarrassed when she begins her litany of questions about books I haven't gotten around to reading. She reads so much, and so widely, and so deep are her desires to read it all, that she has begun farming out books to be read for her. Occasionally, I will mention what I'm reading, and she'll reply "Oh, Liz (her daughter) is in charge of reading that one," or "Mike (her husband) is reading that one for us." Not many people can keep up with her, and it is always a special treat when Justin, (see the reading with my twin blog) is in town. When those two start running lists of titles, the rest of the world evaporates into an inconsequential fog. Although Justin is in his late twenties, and Pat is not, they have a book bond that is both intelligent and entertaining.

Some people, I have learned, have seasonal reading habits. Upon picking up a book, they immediately determine if is is a spring, summer, winter, or fall book. Once home, the book is assigned to the appropriate pile, where it will be consumed at the appropriate time. Some people christen a book by breaking the binding, others avoid any sign of wear on their books by opening them just a tiny bit, and then peering between the barely separated pages as they read. Some folks stack vertically on the floor, or on bottom shelves of end tables, while others will only place books horizontally on bookshelves dedicated to that purpose. You will never see a ceramic bunny, or plastic planter with cascading, silk ivy on those shelves.

Where to read, when to read, how many volumes to buy during a single shopping spree, paperback or hardcover, and how many books to have in progress at one time...these are all issues of concern to readers . However, whether or not to write in a book has to be one of the greatest bibliophile debates in the history of literacy, that is after lending, of course! To many, a book is sacred, a collection of pages filled with ideas to be honored, pondered and sometimes acted upon. If the book is a gift, even the simple act of writing a small note on the inside cover is something akin to sacrilige. Books must remain pristine, appear untouched, preserved for some unknowable future. For others, including myself, nothing personalizes a book more than a few errant scribbles. I love finding old kids' books at yard sales filled with crayon marks, or better yet, an old textbook hosting a note screaming that "Miss Funnyface wears baggy nylons."

When I first opened the store, my friends, Jim and Susie, brought me a gift. Susie prefaced the presentation saying they thought it might be redundant to give a bookstore owner a book, but they felt this one would be perfect. They were so right. The book was about flowers mentioned in various Shakespeare plays. Each page had a stunning, botanical print of a flower, the line from the respective play or sonnet, and then details about the flower itself. The best part was that the book was used. Each page fell open easily, and each page contained tiny, tiny notations in pencil on where a previous owner of the book had planted a particular flower, along with comments on the success of the plant. Knowing that someone had read and valued that book before me, and knowing that Jim and Susie cared to give me this perfect gift, was priceless.

No matter what our relationship with books, one of the gifts we give by reading is the assurance that some books will stay alive. We pass the stories that speak to us on to others, who in turn will fit them into their lives when the time is right. The way I see it, we all need a few good books (and at least one good dog) in our lives at all times.

What am I reading? I finished Little Klein on Sunday. More on that later. I also ripped through the unauthorized Tom Cruise biography. Stop laughing at me!