LESLIE CRISS: Savor the smell, the feel and the importance of a real book

By Leslie Criss/NEMS Daily Journal

“I would be most content if my children grew up to be the kind of people who think decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves.”
– Anna Quindlen

“I know every book of mine by its smell, and I have but to put my nose between the pages to be reminded of all sorts of things.”
– George Robert Gissing

“Lord! When you sell a man a book you don’t sell just twelve ounces of paper and ink and glue – you sell him a whole new life. Love and friendship and humour and ships at sea by night – there’s all heaven and earth in a book, a real book.
– Christopher Morley
I love a book. I love the way it feels in my hands, the way it smells and the broad range of emotions stirred by the words on each page.
That’s why I will never read an author’s words on any sort of electronic device.
Now, before you zip off a snippy email or leave a snarky voice mail, I am not saying there’s anything wrong with those electronic devices. Folks who have them seem to love them, perhaps as much as I love my books.
But I grew up in a time when libraries were unplugged, and I liked it that way.
Don’t get me wrong. The availability of computers at libraries for patrons to do research is a fine addition. It also offers computer access to those who, otherwise, have none. And that’s a good thing.
However, I walked through our library recently on my way to Lunching with Books and was mortified to see someone sitting in a quiet corner, reading from one of those electronic devices.
My fear – irrational or not – is that one day libraries may become obsolete, extinct because there’s no longer any need for a repository of books. A place where wonderful summer programs extend to all manner of young people the opportunity to fall in love with reading – and books.
Then there’s the matter of bookstores, most especially the independents.
If folks switch to words on a screen instead of words on a page, what’s to become of our bookstores?
I love what I do every day at this word workshop, this paragraph factory. But a job I have always thought would be among the greatest? Working in a small independent bookstore – ordering books, shelving books, recommending good books to readers.
Being in a quiet space surrounded by shelves and shelves of books every day would be my idea of something akin to heavenly.
I don’t recall the first book I owned, but I remember sitting in the lap of my grandmother or my mother and being read to. I remember reaching out to touch the pictures on the pages.
And later there was Nancy Drew. Trixie Belden. Those gals solved so many mysteries, entire series were published to safeguard and share all their stories.
I plowed through the pages quickly, but made sure the next book had been procured before allowing myself to reach the end of one.
That’s when I began my lifelong love affair with books. Books I can hold, books I can smell, books that move me.
My friend Emily Gatlin, who is the caretaker of books at Reed’s Gum Tree Bookstore, represented Reed’s last week in Oxford on a panel of independent booksellers to talk about the future of books – and bookstores – in the “age of Kindle.”
Emily spoke of the challenge of getting readers into bookstores to buy actual books. She also said, “Reading has become cool again, and more people are interested.”
I hope she’s right.
Because I love books.
leslie.criss@journalinc.com