Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The Joy of Reading

A few Sundays past, when I had reason to be in the neighborhood, I would find joy on the Upper East Side. I loved to ride the escalator to the top floor of Borders and sit, bag slung over chair, behind a pile of stacked books and magazines. And just read.

Sometimes I would finish entire books (“He’s Just Not That Into You” being one as it was small and pink) at the high wooden counter, sipping an iced coffee to justify my thumbing through pages I would never purchase. It was a small pleasure for me, to be able to survey the stacks in an orderly, logical fashion the way bookstores are composed (damn that Dewey Decimal system, I’ll never understand it), with no snooty librarian and no proof of residence and no big imposing steps and aisles typical of the city’s municipal libraries. No pressure to pile literary musings, reference books, business manuals and titles that begin, “The History of…” in my arms. No unspoken code broken if I took to a magazine, because an institution is meant for learning, not gratification.

Plus, Borders provided intimate solace. Quiet. Warm. Smelled of hot chocolate and coffee beans. And the freedom to fritter away the afternoon on my guilty loves: how-to instructionals on money management, organization, and career advancement. (None of which I’ve since mastered in the slightest.)

For me, it was a fresh start up there, beyond the scaffolding and crowds of the streets below. A start that could change dependant on my moods. Where did I want to go that day? Anything imaginable was reachable. Anything envisioned, I could simply pluck off of the shelves and was immediately immersed in another land, another world, another life.

As I've gotten older, the bliss of a bookstore has replaced the opportunity of libraries, now synonymous with term papers and late fees. The magic trapped in the children's section of the library dilutes by the time you arrive as an adult. No painted construction paper on the walls, no colorful seats, no big open space to lie on the floor, no Dr. Suess mentalities reflected in the architecture of the room.

No matter how fashion, indie music and angst may change me, once in a bookstore I am transformed into that loud little girl again. The one with blunt bangs and tiny Smurfette icons at the corners of her candy-pink glasses, who for three years in a row won the elementary school’s summer reading award at Buchanan-Verplank’s library (an accomplishment I was proud enough of to mention to a boyfriend, who not-so-politely informed me it was horribly nerdy and should be kept to myself). Back then I’d devour Judy Blume (I read and re-read “Fifteen”, sighing as I computed the math--an excruciating eight years before I’d be a sophomore). Also, anything on Egyptians, dinosaurs, and ocean dwellers. Finally and forcibly, I’d read Newberry Award winners (from my parents’ “summer reading lists"). When I was smaller and at the library, everything my mom and dad told me was true. I could do anything, be anything in the world that I wanted. All I had to do was see it to become it.

Back there at the library and now at the bookstore, time is stagnant and the world is accessible. There are no boundaries, no limitations to what I can dream. No one interrupts, no one says "no". No one has authority to tell me what I can become, because there, I am anything I want.

And there, it's never too late to wish, to want, to hope.

To aspire.

22 comments:

Just Some Guy said...

How on earth do you write so well, so damn early in the morning?

Just Some Guy said...

I think it was the Vino last night that kept those fingers moving. I had to do some serious edits this morning though...like I said, it was the vino.

Universal Soldier said...

I'm a compulsive reader too. I could certainly live without the tv, I might now struggle without my computer but I'd survive. Living without books would mean certaind death.

themarina said...

And this is why I love to read. Like you, I too won more than my share of summer reading prizes and reading has always been a central part of my life. I love the feeling of "being lost" and "taken away" in a good story. But I prefer the little used book stores that litter the city with their old book smells. More than just the story told in the pages, I sometimes find myself taken in imagining the story of the book itself: where it's been and who it's seen.

A few years ago, while paging through an old copy of "Alice In Wonderland", I found a postcard dated June 1958. It was from a gentleman in England to whom I assume was his daughter and I spent weeks coming up with different versions of a family based on a few simple lines. I love the chance of finding treasures like these.

shellz said...

I was totally addicted too - Nancy Drew and Sweet Valley High books mostly (ha ha!). My first job was in the library putting away books! I drifted from reading fiction in university (damn textbooks), but I am gladly rediscovering that old joy.

Thanks for stopping by my blog. You write beautifully. I look forward to reading more.

erin said...

I love to read. I love the library. I am a self-confessed book nerd. And I think you've hit on a really good point - the libraries ought to become more like bookstores. More comfortable furniture, perhaps some coffee and snacks, and elimination of that Dewey Decimal system which makes no sense to those of us who didn't major in Library Science.

Julie_Gong said...

You're an amazing writer... must be all the books you've read.

I lose all sense of time at a book store and I love every second of it.

GeminiWisdom said...

All I have to say is...Ditto.

marrow-from-harrow said...

The greatest library that I have ever attended is almost certainly the British Library in London. Not only is it copyrighted, well-stocked and staffed, it has a hall of mirrors near its upper reading room.

Oob said...

I wholeheartedly agree.

Laura said...

I still love libraries. They've never quite lost their charm for me.

marissa said...

Hi, I just wanted to say thanks for checking out my blog. I think yours is pretty cool too. I enjoyed this post. I totally read Judy Blume when I was a kid. She made junior high much more bearable. Keep on blogging!

Chai Anyone? said...

so absolutely true :)

Rees26 said...

I also read "He's Just Not That Into You" in one sitting, second floor of a Barnes and Noble. My love affair for bookstores and libraries started early and I could spend hours in each. (And, keeping up with modern times, in the book section of Amazon.com.)

Anonymous said...

Reading your blog is so freakin' interesting....post a pic of yourself?

Christopher said...

I love Borders. I tried to live there but they kept kicking me out..

stretch td said...

Wonderful writings. How do those bookstores makes money? I'll never know.

Blush said...

that reminds me of myself, sans the smurfette glasses. i always wished i had a sight problem because i wanted glasses like that.

LisaBinDaCity said...

I love book stores. What a wealth of possiblities all in front of me!

Great post.

Sub Girl said...

i love your writing. and books. and i like afternoons at Borders.

Cheetarah1980 said...

I'm a reading addict as well. I'll read anything I can get my hands on. As a kid I used to LOVE the Pizza Hut Book-It contests. I'd devour my reading list and then run to my parents bedroom so they could sign my sheet verifying that I did indeed read all 20 books in less than 2 weeks.
Now I read two or three books at once. Sometimes I'll sit in Barnes and Noble and just hang out in the stacks of books. I find myself comparing my writing to the people who get paid to do it and thinking, "that could be me."

emily said...

beautifully written!