I remember the first book I ever read on my own. My mother gave it to me and I sat and looked at the cover for a very long time. We were going out to dinner or meeting family friends, I can’t remember exactly. I believe I was four years old. Right before we were about to walk out the door, I announced that I was going to read it for her. I think she had a look of frustration, but then she smiled and sat me on her lap.
I remember running my hands back and forth over the cover and feeling so excited I could barely sit still. And then I opened it, and found the first page. It was filled with color and action, and I was filled with a curious joy. I had no idea what was going to happen. I had no idea what the words would say. I took a deep breath, and then I began to read it aloud.
“A little red hen had a seed…”
There was a rat involved and a lazy dog, and a cat that could not be bothered. There was a succulent ear of corn and a story I had never heard before. I don’t remember what the pages smelled like then, though I remember my mother holding the book up and smelling them, her eyes big and laughing as she looked over the edge.
Straight cut pages. Hard cover. Soft cover. Small enough to fit in your pocket or so thick it weighs your backpack down and puts a crimp in your neck. Uneven page edges with a rough texture or smooth edges with gilt. Leather bound. Soft and seductive vellum covers. High gloss or matte, though the cover art explodes into your imagination from either one. This one smells like a bible. This one smells like the library. This one smells like oranges, though how is that possible? This font reminds me of my leather bound edition of Tom Sawyer. This font belongs to Jane Austen.
The pages of my Bram Stoker’s Dracula were actually cold, and so was the book itself when I held it in my hands. I wore soft knit gloves when I read it and a blanket draped over my shoulders. It smelled like the earth from our neighbor’s garden after it had been tilled and turned. I noted this before I even began reading it, and I found it somewhat disturbing. I still have the copy, never returned to my high school lit class. It is held together with a single, heavy rubber band.
I understand the lure of the eBook. I understand the necessity when you’re in school. Every bit of reading required is at your fingertips, weighing just under a pound. Much different than the complete works of Shakespeare I bought for a quarter from the university bookstore, much used and abused after twenty years had come and gone. Two strips of grey duct tape on the binding were all it needed. But I wouldn’t want to carry that bastard around all day. I know it. I see it, the eBook logic.
But there is a romance that comes with an actual book. There is the soft turn of the pages as your mind either sinks in deep with every line, or races ahead because you can’t stop it. Your fingers toy with the corners of the pages yet to come. Sometimes you give in and turn just a few, and perhaps you even read a sentence or two. Usually you regret it, though sometimes it makes you curse and smile and you force yourself to go back so you might get there honestly. Your legs tucked beneath you on your favorite chair, all the while knowing that an entire world waits just for you. It is singular and contains but one miracle all its own, deserving of a proper home on a crowded shelf among other miracles. And if it smells like oranges? Even better.
“All books wait… They sit patiently on their respective shelves, gathering only the most refined dust, until the day their covers are opened and their pages turned by the proper person.”
~ Robert John Guttke