There’s a story to this post. I had recently finished reading The Midwife’s Apprentice by Karen Cushman and jumped into writing a review as an additional book to our Newbery Medal Reading Challenge only to discover that Myra had written a review earlier. And here I was excited to finally be ahead of the game and not rushing a review. Hence, this post is not a review, but a few random thoughts on reading and books.
Every time I visit a bookshop in my area, there are always people in it. Some probably looking for presents, others looking for that best seller they just read about in the paper, and others are just there to inhale the magic. I’ve spent enough hours in bookshops to say that there are subtle differences between bibliophiles and regular readers. I do not mean one is greater than the other, it’s more like there is a distinction between a person who’s life source is books from someone who merely likes to read.
People come and go in bookshops. Some find their favorite author, pick up the latest novel and leave. Others look for some interesting reading, finds one, picks it up and pays for it. And then there’s me.
My typical office day allows me an hour of lunch. I usually spend the first half of my lunchtime eating my sandwich and sipping coffee while reading, then maybe a little writing. After which, I visit the nearby bookshop, searching for new books to read. Last Thursday, I made my rounds in the bookstore looking for books that would fit our bimonthly theme of water tales. The search was occasionally sidetracked by just the mere presence of books. Here I was wearing my white long sleeves, my black slacks and office shoes, squatting to look at the books at the lower shelves. I finally picked up Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. Triumphant, I stood up and as I made my way out of the aisle of shelves, a woman in her 60s spoke to me. She held in her hand Gabriel Garcia-Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera and asked if I’ve read it. I said yes and hence began my short interesting conversation with the woman. We talked about books, how they broaden the mind and deepen one’s intelligence. As time ran out and I had to leave, she told me: “I spoke to you, because by the way you look through the shelves, I knew you were a bookworm.” I gave her a hearty laugh, told her I definitely was, and had too many books at home to be considered otherwise.
I’m like a child in a toy store when I visit bookstores. To me the shelves are like mazes filled with unknown characters and adventure. I traverse the terrain with the expertise one can only gain from experience. Reading, to me, is never about finding the usual genre or author, it’s about finding that one book (or 2, 3, 4..you get the idea) that’s waiting for you. Finding that book, going home, reading it, and sighing at how apt it is for this particular time in one’s life is an irreplaceable experience and feeling. I am a bookworm, not because I hunger for books. I am a bookworm, because I hunger for that conversation waiting to happen between me and the characters or the author. There is a vast array of voices in the maze of books, but the bookworm has mastered the art of finding her way in and out of the labyrinth.
The bookworm (or bibliophile) is patient. She stays in one section of the bookstore, looking at titles, lifting books and turning pages. Her walk is slower, neck turned up or to the side as she stares at books, pausing, when an interesting title or cover catches her eye. A quiet smile forms on her lips when she finds the exact book she needs for the day. She carries it around like a piece of clothing attached to her, like second skin it doesn’t seem like a purchase. She continues on this search as the books in her arm grow, like layers of clothing to the naked body. Time and everyone else disappear as she makes her journey through the maze, her feet bring her back to reality as she makes her way to the cashier.
Dismay can also be found in a bibliophile’s heart when her journey leaves her empty handed. It’s a bittersweet goodbye, for a visit to the bookshop is always a sweet experience, but leaving it and not finding the one book for you can be a sad thing.
This is my bibliophilic experience: the journey I take when I enter the magical land of books. On occasion, I find a fellow traveler in the maze of books and know she or he is a kindred. Maybe the dear woman I met found a soul so similar to her that she couldn’t resist but talk to the bookworm beside her, and I couldn’t resist but smile (despite my usual broody self) at finding a fellow book lover.