What’s In a Book?

I woke up at 2:30am the other night and couldn’t fall back asleep. This happens every once in a while when I have too much on my mind. I used to toss and turn and get frustrated, angry – sometimes blaming my husband as he would lie there dreaming. He’d taken the blankets or elbowed me awake and now I couldn’t get back to sleep! These days I am smarter. I just get up and do something – scribble a to-do list, have a cup of tea, write in journal and often read.

On this particular early morning I decided to pull a random book from my haphazardly stacked shelves. I selected a slim paperback of Irish short stories. I didn’t recall seeing it before. This must have been one of the 20 or so Ireland-related books that had belonged to my grandmother and then passed down to my father who decided they would have a better home with me.  I took the collection and stuffed them into my bulging shelves to be revisited another day. Now, probably a year or more later at 2:30am, was the day.

I opened the book to select a story and found tucked into this slim volume not one but several sheets of tissue paper protecting dried flowers. A gift from my grandmother to me. I smiled as I gently opened the delicate packages to find pressed and faded purple and yellow wildflowers that may have voyaged from Ireland in these pages some 30 years ago.

I read a story, and then another before going back to bed to enjoy a restful sleep.

Weeks later I am still reading these stories and have decided to keep the flowers tucked away where I found them. They have become part of the narrative that held them safe all these years. I think about how I will share this little story and the book with my daughter one day. I also feel a little sad knowing that moments like this one will continue to become less frequent because books aren’t treasured in the same way they once were. Reading isn’t only about having access to the stories electronically, although having that option is great. Reading a book, the physical book, is about holding a moment and passing along a memory.

I don’t know if my grandmother enjoyed this collection of short stories. She may have never gotten around to reading them. I can see her stopping to pick wildflowers along a hedgerow in Killarney or County Cork and carefully wrapping them in tissues and pressing them in this little volume to bring home and share. I also know my grandmother well enough to realize the book, along with its precious cargo, got put on a shelf and probably forgotten. I’d like to think she read the stories on her flight home and enjoyed them as much as I am enjoying them now.

So what does this all have to do with being a bookseller beyond the obvious of we hope to never see printed irishcoverbooks disappear from circulation? This story is about more than that little book of Irish verse just as being a bookseller is about more than selling books. When people walk into The Book Garden I love hearing their stories as much as I love helping them discover new authors or find old favorites.

I’d love to know what you love about books, reading them or selling them.

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  • I hope printed books and ebooks are able to peacefully coexist for a long time. i fear the demise of the printed page, and we already see this more prominently in newspapers, but there is something special about holding onto a great book and reading it the way it was set to be printed. I read many ebooks now, and in fact get the NY Times electronically. There is no reason to minimize that these venues offer savings and limited environmental benefits. But books can speak to us in ways e-books have yet to duplicate. In my own first book, I was able to use fonts to express certain communication that was diminished in the e-versions, where I could only use bold and size to try to convey the same information. Someday, inevitably, these differences will be mitigated, but the feel, the smell, and the memories wrapped up in the physicality of a tome, will never be fully reproducible.

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  • I agree with you Larry and I am confident the two will coexist. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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