Thursday, June 09, 2011

Book with the Dusty-Rose Cover

I bought a book today because of its scent.

It is an old Oxford paperback, with a cover the color of parchment and faded flowers. It was on the to-be-shelved rack in the literary criticism section of the Richardson Halfprice Books. I did not need it. We had a cart full of books already, some for us, some for the children. But when I picked up the book and felt its smooth cover, almost creamy to the touch, I felt that familiar eagerness. This book was meant to be a pleasure to hold. The Penguins and the Oxford paperbacks of the 1960s were made to satisfy the senses of the reader as well as the mind.

Last Christmas Az the husband gave me a Kindle, one of those electronic book readers. I love its ease and compact accessibility, and I especially love how many books I can get for free. But reading on it has made me aware of how much tactile pleasure I used to get from books. There is joy in holding a book just so in your hand, joy in a book that has been well-made. Acid-free paper and clear type, a spine that bends but does not break, a cover illustration that makes you wonder about the contents. All these pleasures are lost in a Kindle, where I have had to love books only for their words, a task that is not as simple as I expected.

If you love Rudyard Kipling's Kim, you can love it on an e-reader, but you will only be loving the platonic ideal of Kim. You cannot love this book, this copy I hold in my hand, the one with the dog-eared cover and the coffee-stain on page 193. Every time you pick up this book, this one here, it reminds you of that summer before junior year at the lake in Wisconsin, when you were slathered in calamine after stumbling into poison ivy. You remember how the book kept you from scratching, mostly, and you only closed it when you needed to swat a fly. Every time you read this book, it feels like coming home.

The Oxford paperback with the cream and dusty-rose cover felt good in my hand, and when I opened it, the scent of its pages took me back to the summers at my parents' house in Kansas, looking through the bookshelves in the basement for something to read. The summers were hot but the basement was cool, and  thousands of books lined its walls. I could pick out whatever I wanted. The slim Penguin Classics called to me, and I read the Inferno and the Iliad and Candide, copies left over from my dad's college years. Sometimes, as a boon from the playful reading gods, I would find his notes in the margin, crisp neat writing of a younger man I never met, a man who did not yet know my mother. We would meet across the margins, and I would smile quietly and say nothing. I never give away the ending.

I bought a book today because of its scent. Because some day my children may want to browse our shelves on their own in the cool basement, and smooth slim volumes may call to them (now where did I leave that pencil?). I bought a book because reading is a dangerous endeavour, and I should be grounded in case of lightning strike, my hands touching something real, my feet rooted with the tree its paper comes from.

So I bought the book with the dusty-rose cover. I will read it with my whole body, even if I only use my eyes.


  1. Anonymous6/09/2011

    This is beautiful (says she, reading a blog on her computer). Sums up everything I feel about the danger of e-readers, what they take away from us as reading people. I do think they are very useful, but reading a bound book engages all our senses (well, except maybe taste), and sticks with us so much better, and does so much more for us, than something that just requires our eyes.

  2. That's it! You have so beautifully described how I feel about books. Unfortunately I feel like my life is a war with books. I have about 8 bookcases of varying sizes, and they are...overfull. I am constantly trying to find some I can get rid of, or lobbying my husband for another book case. But really, is it possible to have too many books?

  3. So, I know I'm missing the whole point of your post here but - what book was it?

  4. Deneen6/09/2011

    I gave a little jump for joy when I read the statement " I will read it with my whole body, even if I only use my eyes." That sentence sums up perfectly how much I love to read.

    Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts here.

  5. Anonymous6/09/2011

    Yes. Yes yes yes.

    Also, like Bea, I want to know what book it was!

  6. This is why I do not own a Kindle. Although when the baby is napping and I've run out of new books to read, I reconsider.

    I'm so glad you are blogging again. I landed here through sheer dumb luck, and I'm so glad. I've missed your writing.

  7. Just found you again after reading your previous blogs. I am so glad you are back. I was just telling a friend the other day about your old blog...and how much I missed your voice. You had outgrown that space but I had not, with babies underfoot. Now I get to feel that familiar feeling...the looking forward to your posts.

  8. I. so. agree. with. you. E books will just never, ever do, will they? I have been careful to teach my children the joy of the smell of books, and they often run to me full of joy to share a 'good one'! Books are precious - 'hands touching something real' - as you say.

  9. Anonymous6/10/2011


  10. I love this post. It made me realize how much I too, enjoy other things about books besides the words, and it was beautiful to read.

  11. Linda B.6/13/2011

    This was lovely.

    You have no idea how happy I am that you are blogging again!