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The Bibliophile in Me

May 30, 2013

Today, my lit professor started the class by smelling her book. She smelt her book. I love that.

She pulled out the Ahlbergs’ The Jolly Postman or Other People’s Letters, flipped through it, and ran her hand over the cover. The book was pristine, and from afar, it seemed even shinier than my copy. She held it up to her face and took a big sniff. She came away from it with a smile on her face. Then she took out Stevenson’s Treasure Island and took a whiff of that too.

I couldn’t help but let out a cackle. Everyone turned and looked at me. But I didn’t care. I smiled because for once, I felt like I was in the right place. It was the best feeling in the world. Or well, one of the best.

The way a book looks and feels is very important to me. I often buy multiple versions of the same book just because I keep finding better editions. The ca. 1950 copies are the best. I love the thin yellow paper and the tiny fonts. I love the way those books can fit perfectly in my left palm.

I hardly buy books from Chapters/ Indigo anymore unless I’m looking for a book that was just recently published. I love used bookstores: the small, narrow aisles; the books piled high up to the ceiling; the treasure hunt you go on to look for your book; the personalized attention you get from the bookstore owner… it all really is just… magical. I always get so excited when I find the prefect copy.

Maurice Sendak, author of Where the Wild Things Are, conveys my feelings best:

“My sister bought me my first book, The Prince and the Pauper. A ritual began with that book which I recall very clearly. The first thing was to set it up on the table and stare at it for a long time. Not because I was impressed with Mark Twain; it was just such a beautiful object. Then came the smelling of it. I think the smelling of books began with The Prince and the Pauper, because it was printed on particularly fine paper, unlike the Disney books I had gotten previous to that, which were printed on very poor paper and smelled poor. The Prince and the Paper–Pauper– smelled good and it also had a shiny cover, a laminated cover. I flipped over that. And it was very solid. I mean, it was bound very tightly. I remember trying to bite into it, which I don’t imagine is what my sister intended when she bought the book for me. But the last thing I did with the book was to read it. It was alright.

“But I think it started then, a passion for books and bookmaking. I wanted to be an illustrator very early in my life; to be involved in books in some way–to make books. And the making of books, the touching of books–there’s so much more to it than just reading; there is a sensuousness. I’ve seen children touch books, fondle books, smell books, and it’s all the reason in the world why books should be beautifully produced.”
Maurice Sendak, 1970

It makes me so sad to think that small bookstores are going extinct. I’d like to own a bookstore one day. And be one of those old ladies with the granny glasses and the wool cardigan exclaiming with excitement, “Oh that book is wonderful! And the smell of it is just spectacular!”

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