Sunday, September 25, 2005

The Scent of a Bookstore

What is it about the scent of a bookstore that is so appealing for me I wonder? I just love the way bookstores smell and could just go inside to browse, and to take very deep breaths, inhaling the scent of all the written words that exist in them. Maybe it’s because they smell like libraries that I like them so much. From the time I was very young I have also loved libraries. There weren’t too many bookstores around when I was growing up, so when it came to reading books, the library was the place to go.

My siblings and I grew up with a mother who read to us. We would sit on the couch at night next to my mother, who would read us all kinds of stories. We would often beg, “Please, just read one more chapter…please.” Fairy tales, nursery rhymes, short story collections, children’s novels, my mother read them all. I can vividly remember sitting snuggled up right next to her, tears streaming down my face as she read for probably the twentieth time, The Little Match Girl. I would plead with her to read that story, even knowing that the outcome always made me cry.

The Little Match Girl was part of a Christmas short story collection that we had in our home when we were growing up. It was the story of a little girl who was so poor, she had to sell matches to survive and how one night… she didn’t…. survive that is. I would cry as I listened to my mother read how this little girl gazed longingly into windows where families sat in warm homes, with food on the table and she had none. I would sob when suddenly she felt warm and before her, appeared her grandmother, taking her hand and leading her off. Initially I had no idea exactly what had happened, until my mother explained that in fact, the little girl had died and gone to heaven to live with her grandmother, where she would never feel cold or hungry again…..that’s when the sobbing began. Even knowing the outcome of the story, I would cry over and over again. Looking back on this, it must have been torture for my mother to have to read this story that always made me cry. That was not the only story I cried through though, there were others….and often I think my mother was probably inclined to cry a little bit too.

Every summer we joined the summer reading club at our local library. Weekly and sometime even daily trips there were common for us during the summer months. Take out books, run home and read them, write the report, then back to the library to hand in the report and earn your points toward the prize of your choice and the end of summer party. I would often lie on my bed in my hot bedroom and read hour after hour. But even without the prizes and the parties, I would have been in the library. Because of my mother, I learned to appreciated written words at a young age and have loved them ever since….as well as the scent of those words as written into books.

I’m not sure when, but at some point book clubs became popular and still may be. For a penny you could join and order ten books, along with committing yourself to purchasing four or five more at full price in a one or two year period. Purchasing the additional books at full price was never a problem for me. The problem would be purchasing too many of them and then having to come up with the money to pay for them all.

Book clubs were when my book collecting really started. By then I had a part time job, so I could afford to actually buy books, as long as I was able to limit myself…it was for me, a little like being a drug addict….I was addicted to books. Over the years, my book collecting tastes have changed. Most of the books that I bought when I was much younger are gone, having been sold in yard sales or donated, or been given away. I have held on to a few of my childhood books that amazingly enough, are on a book shelf in my transition home right now. One day I’m hoping to sit on a couch somewhere and read them to my grandchildren. They now sit among my collection of mysteries, thrillers, novels, books on how to garden, home medical books, true crime books, the Harry Potter books, cook books, how to teach yourself *whatever* books, social work books, text books and history books…..and I just love the way they smell.

Currently I have forbidden myself from purchasing any more books. I do not go down the book aisle at Costco if I can help it, nor do I venture into bookstores of any kind…..well, almost. I try to remind myself that one day in the hopefully not to distant future, I will have to move all these books that I own to a home of my own again…even if it is the size of a closet. Moving them to this transition home was a monumental task as they were so damn heavy! As I was struggling to lug box after box of them up the stairs, I was asking myself why the hell I needed all these books. Why couldn’t I collect something lighter? Since I never seem to do anything the easy way though, it makes sense that I collect books. Nothing that I do seems to be easy, so of course I would collect the heavy things… and then have to haul them around with me in the course of getting a new life. With the exception of my clothes, my books were the first things that I unpacked. Boxes and boxes of my stuff remains, piled in empty bedrooms, waiting for a permanent home in order to be unpacked, but the books, they sit on shelves in the living room, waiting too for a permanent home, but not left in boxes to languish in the dark until that time arrives. Somehow, looking at them gives me hope that not only will they have a permanent home again one day, but so will I.

I fell off the wagon today and went into a bookstore. I’ve held out since Bargain Books opened a few weeks ago, but my car drove it self there today…it was like it had a mind of its own. One minute I was on the road, the next I was in the bookstore….and how wonderful it was to stand there and just inhale the scent of all those books. Of course they did not have the particular book that I was looking to purchase, but I did manager to buy four of them for other people. How perplexing that I had to go home and order my book from…a bookstore with no scent at all.

They say that our sense of smell is a strong memory trigger. When I inhale the scent of books in a library or a bookstore, I remember sitting on the couch, snuggled up against my mother while she read us story after wonderful story, even the ones that made me cry. What a wonderful gift that was that she gave to my siblings and I…the gift of how written words can take you to so many places and teach you so many things. I remember my children when they were little, snuggled up against my side while we read scary stories and stories about *very bad bunnies* and Shel Silverstein poems. Just walking into a bookstore and smelling the scent in the air, brings those memories and those moments in time, to life again. I think I’m finally getting the idea that not matter where I am, all those very special moments in time will continue to live in my memories, no matter where I end up……

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