Thursday, June 7, 2012

I believe in real books.

This post isn't directly about teaching, but it is about something that made me the teacher that I am.

         I believe in real books. 

Do you remember the kind I'm talking about? The ones with the spines and the pages. The ones that smell of ink and basement. The ones that you can dog-ear, even if it feels a little rebellious. Even if you hear the librarian, mother, teacher in your head blurt, "Use a bookmark, missy! That book didn't buy itself!"
        Admittedly, from birth to present, I have held seventeen different residences. My uncle has called me a gypsy, and on each of those moving days, the back-bending labor of lugging cardboard boxes spilling with stories has nearly driven me to a Kindle or Nook. 

        It would certainly make more sense for a semi-nomad to condense, but once I settle into the new apartment, dorm room, or house, the first thing I unpack are my books. It's a sacred ritual. I run my fingers along their spines, flip through dog-eared pages, and am transported back to the first, second, third time that I read that story. Inevitably, a memento or two will fall to the floor as I scan the text - a note from a neighbor in 10th grade English, my sister's posed picture at a Sadie Hawkins dance, a receipt for twenty dollars worth of gas which used to fill up my car, or one of the bookplates that my grandmother gave me. 
When I see oily stains splashed across the recipe for Nutty Apple Loaf in my Hummingbird Bakery cookbook, I think of Sarah. She was my college confidante who once sat beside me on London's Portobello Road as we stuffed our faces with two Hummingbird Bakery cupcakes each - embarrassing our country and validating the "gluttonous Americans!" stereotype.  

       I remember when she called me crying from graduate school, four states away because of the suicide of her close friend. In a rush to comfort her, I grabbed the cookbook off the shelf, and quickly baked Hummingbird apple bread to send in the mail - a reminder of better times. In the hasty process of greasing a loaf pan, I spilled oil on the pages - a reminder now, to me, of our friendship and how long distance has yet to stain it. My collection of "real" books preserves my scattered personal history. Each one of them holds more than the author's original text. It holds my yesteryear. Though to uninformed on-lookers, they're merely marked with smudges and chicken scratch. 
Last week, I moved into house number seventeen after the burglary at house number sixteen. Of all my worldly possessions, the crooks only deemed one worthy of their time - my computer. I laughed to myself as I noticed that, although they had lugged most of our belongings on the floor, they hadn't laid a finger on a bookshelf - where my most treasured effects are housed. Hidden in plain sight. 

        Now, a Nook might have peaked their interest, but the joke's on them.  What I've learned from those books has made me, as my Dad reminded me, "grateful that I'm not the one having to do the robbing."
When I glance at my collection on the green built-ins in the living room of house number seventeen, I see a timeline of my life that no one else can see. Once when stepping back after arranging them in an order that would make Dewey's head spin (summer reads, expatriate authors, cookbooks for carnivores), I was interrupted by my housemate who asked me my favorite question, "Can you recommend a book for me to read?" I turned around, sized her up, then furiously went to work. Me Talk Pretty One Day? Check. She's Come Undone. Perfect. Sandra Cisneros? Amy Hempel? Malcolm Gladwell? Of course. At seven books, she interjected, disrupting my literary fervor, "Okay, okay! I said a book. A book." 

I just know it will happen one day. It might be a birthday or Christmas, but someone I know who did not read this essay is going to give me an eReader. I'll smile, thank them, and I might even use it when I travel. But I will never deny my loyalty to the real books. When I crawl in bed at night, I want to pick a book out of the stack of them that teeters on my nightstand - threatening the lamp in a contest of height. I want to walk through a library and judge them by their covers. I want to shove off one too many novels on my friends. I want to grab my copy of One Writer's Beginnings by Eudora Welty that I bought at her birthplace - two blocks down from house number fourteen - and read the words I've highlighted: 

        "Yet regardless of where they came from, I cannot remember a time when I was not in love with them - with the books themselves, cover and binding and the paper they were printed on, with their smell and their weight and with their possession in my arms, captured and carried off to myself."

Ms. Welty's home library

6 bonus points:

Hayley G. said...

Too great! Ever since I took an Art of the Book class, I've been making mini books nonstop. There's something magical planning the layout, selecting the paper and then sewing or binding them by hand. I don't want to live in a world without books.

Ms. P said...

Hayley, I know! When I read or hear people talking about how we need to do away with physical libraries soon because they're outdated and useless, I want to put my fingers in my ears and chant, "Nah na na nah nahhh. I can't hear you!"

Very mature. Very mature.

Matthew Harris Glover said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Matthew Harris Glover said...

I wanted to respond to this, not to disagree, but to explain my own approach to a personal library. Blogspot thinks I ramble too much, so I responded here: Digital Books Are Real Books Too

Matthew Harris Glover said...

Oh, as an aside, if you haven't already, talk to Deirdra about what happened when we started trying to catalog Ms. Welty's library. :)

stringends said...

Leigh, I love this! No other posts on the subject have made me realize how far my books have come with me like this one has. I was just looking at my bookshelf the other day and seeing certain books, I remember when I used to see those crammed on a small dorm shelf, or on the floor when I had no bookshelf in my first apartment. When I moved to Mississippi, I fit everything I was taking with me in 1 suitcase and a carry on, and to me the important things were some clothes, some kitchen pots and utensils, and some books! Makes me want to go grab a book right now!

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