At the mere sight

Does this photo make you smile?  I hope so! I snapped it inside a bookstore in Charlottesville, Virginia, in June 2014.

Does this photo make you smile? I hope so!
I snapped it inside a bookstore in Charlottesville, Virginia, in June 2014.

“Many people, myself among them, feel better at the mere sight of a book.”
Jane Smiley

I was quite a few years into adulthood before I realized that the mere presence of books was a comfort to me, even if I didn’t reach out and take one from the shelf.  This seemed a bit illogical at first.  I wondered whether it had to do with my early memories of my mother, a frugal woman with little money to spare in my preschool years, who nonetheless bought me a Little Golden Book on each trip to the grocery store.  Perhaps I equate books with love, I thought.

But that’s only part of the equation.  I have to factor in the human presence that I find in books; when I pick one up, I know I will be encountering at least one other person, and often many, who will dull the edge of loneliness I sometimes feel even among crowds. The voice of a book is almost invariably more personal and direct than a lot of what passes for conversation in casual gatherings.

And of course, there’s the matter of distraction from the woes of my immediate surroundings.  No matter what is troubling me, I know that a book will take me away for however long a time I choose to spend with it.  It may open my eyes to things I hadn’t noticed before, or my mind to ideas I’d never encountered.  It may introduce me to worlds so delightfully similar to my own that I feel an instant sense of belonging, or so astoundingly different that I am stunned by the novelty.

Books are more than books.  They are promises of discovery, consolation, excitement or enchantment.  They are, contrary to the stereotype of the solitary and introverted bookworm, one of the surest ways we have of getting outside ourselves and into a realm where we realize that we are not the center of the universe.

What to you see when you see a book?  How do you feel when you enter a roomful of them?

One year ago today:

What really knocks me out

34 Comments

  1. Yeah 😀 I feel that way about books too :))

    • It’s always a joy to hear from another book lover! Thanks for visiting here.

  2. One of the pleasures of reading a book, regardless of the format you choose, is their immediacy. You can be riding on a train and grab your reader or physical book and be instantly transported to another place and time. I carry my Nexus 7 tablet with me everywhere and make good use of its versatility.

    • Bob, I love traditional books, but I have become quite a fan of my Nook(s) and Kindle Paperwhite. I just love being able to read in the dark without disturbing others (whether at home or on an airplane or whatever) plus being able to carry around HUNDREDS of books (almost all of which I got free from the library or Book Bub or Google or Amazon) so there is something for every mood. I like being able to save notes so easily — I’ve gotten some quotes I used here that way — and especially like being able to instantly look up the definition and pronunciation of a word I don’t know, with just the touch of a finger. I could go on and on, but I’m preaching to the choir here. I hope traditional paper books never go away — and I don’t think they will — but more formats such as ebooks and audiobooks just mean more fun ways to convert formerly “wasted” or “semi-wasted” time (reading, walking, housework, etc.) to more time with books!

      • I was an avid reader in my early teens. I gave it up because of poor eyesight. Now with tablets and Kindle software I can enlarge the print and, in the case of my original Kindle, have zero eye strain when reading in average room light. I’ve read over 60 books since buying my Kindle a few years ago and continue with my Nexus 7 2013.

        • I forgot to mention the ability to adjust the type size (and even font in some cases). Though I have pretty good eyesight for reading, I find that it is easier on the eyes to make the font a bit larger. It may be my imagination, but I seem to be able to read more quickly if the font is bigger.

  3. singleseatfighterpilot

    You may want to “dull the edge of loneliness” by meeting Susan Patton, in chapter One of “Fallen Weapon Fallen Warrior”. She was the grandmother of General George S. Patton, and had deep loneliness with which to deal.

    If so, should I mail it to York or to the address near DC?

    • Eric, I started reading Dad’s copy of the book and would love to read it. Is that the mysterious package that FedEx tried in vain to deliver while we were away, despite my protestations? Send it to the Alexandria address IF AND ONLY IF you send it book rate via the post office (for $2.69) because with them, I can hold my mail easily for later pickup when we are away, but UPS and FedEx have been fairly unreliable with my attempts to do that. I have had books delivered by them that were ruined by rain because we don’t have a roof over our front porch and the box sat there all day and got soaked. 😦 They didn’t even put it in a plastic bag or anything. So don’t take that chance! I have swapped hundreds of books with no problems via the good old USPS Media Mail rate, with no problems. Thanks for the offer!

  4. Good morning, Julia! I was smiling even before I scrolled down to the caption (photo was full screen)!
    I am also one who takes photos of bookshelves. Sometimes because I want to remember a title so I can order it (used, and cheaper online), and sometimes just because the colors, shapes and textures are so interesting. Not to mention, a glimpse into the interests and values of the bookshelf owner.
    Our in this case, the book store management. 🙂

    • Hey, great idea to take a photo in a bookstore as a memory-jogger! Dummy me, I usually write down lists of ISBN numbers and then look for it at the public library and/or my paperback swap. I do love to browse people’s bookshelves in their homes. It does reveal a good bit about their interests, I think — or at least about what they WANT you to think their interests are! I’ve never seen anyone displaying copies of Steal this book (by Abbie Hoffman) or even more embarrassing titles. Though I do have a few funny stories in that regard, but nothing I’d want to talk about here. 😀

      • Rene

        Bookshelves are the first places I visit when I first visit a home (or second, after the bathroom!). We used to have a friend who owned a lot of Penguin paperbacks, with the orange spines. I never got tired of checking them out when we got to her house.

        • Hey, I remember those orange spines too! Perhaps it’s a bias on my part, but Penguin and Knopf always seemed to produce books that were a cut above most of the other publishers. Now so many of the publishers have been bought out and are just imprints under a few big conglomerates, but I think they have retained their individual personalities to some extent. The sheer variety of books has always amazed and delighted me. I’m glad you like to “prowl the stacks” too!

  5. Julia, wonderful blog! I suppose I look at some of my books, with a smile, and remember where they took me, with memories. 🙂 A granddaughter and I went over to a book store in Murrells Inlet this summer and it is one of my fondest summer memories. We looked at books together, read some jackets, went to separate areas, reconnected and smiled. She didn’t have a book, neither did I. Maybe next time, but we’d gotten our book fix and left the store HAPPY! 🙂 Have a wonderful weekend… with a good read?! We’re enjoying a rainy Saturday morning in Garden City. Thank you, Lord.

    • Sheila, the heat is SO BAD this week and weekend that rain sounds WONDERFUL. I wish I could run a bookstore that could stay open without ever having to sell anything. I guess that would be called a public library, hee-hee. 😀 But seriously, browsing books is great fun even if one does not buy anything at all. I would say for every book I’ve bought in a bookstore, I’ve probably looked at about a thousand. They don’t seem to mind that, though. But when I go to the public library, with no costs to contain me, I tend to go a bit overboard at times. Let’s just say I should carry a tote bag with me, but I don’t because I limit myself to how many I can carry out without one. 😀 I am reading several good books right now, as always — one audio, one print, one Kindle. My name is Julia and I am addicted to reading!

  6. I feel at home and relaxed in a room full of books. Even a strange library feels cozy. Yeah books!

    • I so agree! I once told my husband that I’d much rather stay in a shabby old hotel or home with lots of books, than in the grandest modern hotel with no books. I really mean it. A room or home without books seems so spare and clinical to me. Thanks for visiting here and for your comment!

  7. Books! 🙂 Love sharing books with children. I never tire of seeing a child’s face light up when they discover a new idea in a book. The thoughts and questions shared by a child before, during and after reading a book always bring an excitement and deeper meaning to the text. The joy of sharing a book with a child – the best! I am blessed to work every day in a classroom which I have filled with 84 baskets of children’s books organized by genre, plus 4 shelves of books I use to model reading strategies. Yes, I smile every day I see the books – but my smile gets bigger when I see the books in the hand of a child. I will always cherish memories of sharing books with Matt. His joy and thoughts he shared while reading made a book in his hands come to life. So thankful our paths crossed in Vandenberg!

    • Fran, I was reading along here and didn’t realize who this was (“hmm, must be a teacher”) until I got to the part about Matt. You and he just hit it off from the very beginning and maybe books were a big part of that. Knowing you, the “84 baskets of books” does not sound at all hard to believe (trust me, whoever reads this comment, this lady is as crazy about books as I am)! I think your smile always gets bigger when you see a child with anything, but especially with a book! You are a great teacher and friend! Love to all of you.

  8. Very good post,Julia.
    Reading truly enhances one’s life.
    However, in my reading, I’ve discovered that we are the center of the universe, and quite significant.
    -Alan

    • Alan, I probably should have said “I am not the center of the universe” — I was using the “we” in a first-person sense — Through books I find that so many things are UNIVERSAL, pun not intended! We are all significant, and I appreciate your pointing that out. Thanks for being here!

      • That was not my intent. It was just ironic that your comment had some bearing on my next two blogs that I mentioned to you earlier. The one in particular will be posted Sept. 15th.
        -Alan

        • Alan, I will have to make it a point to try to get over there on the 15th. I am so far behind on my blog reading. I really miss reading other blogs and when I reach the two year mark I will probably quit writing a daily post so that I can spend more time catching up with all the blogs I enjoy.

  9. Dear Julia, you’ve written so eloquently on the relationship between you and your books. “They are promises of discovery, consolation, excitement or enchantment.” That is so comforting somehow. I tend to enjoy espionage, underdog wins or humorous stumbling goof wins the day type books. I wonder what that says about me? HA, maybe I wish to be a spy that stumbles thru a story almost falling victim to my circumstance but saves the day. Hey, there’s a story line half written, LOL. My sister-In-law Adele reads great, thick, historical novels and is always trying to get me to take them home. Honestly if they’re more than a couple of inches thick, I know I’ll be well onto other things before I know the ending. No two days are alike for me, good thing I can read short novels fast, LOL.

    • Your comment made me think about what Drew said about a really thick novel he saw once when he was a kid – War and Peace or Finnegan’s Wake or something like that — he said “I wouldn’t sky dive off that thing, much less read it!” 😀 The only way I can get through a very long novel like that is to take my time with it. I have taken as long as two years to read a really long book. Meanwhile I have others going so I don’t get impatient to finish and go on to something else. I love spy stories and used to read lots of them. Did you ever read the old Mrs. Pollifax series? Little Old Lady as CIA agent. I like underdog stories and comedy happy endings, but truthfully I like almost everything except romances and vampire stories, if the writing is good.

  10. When I see a book, I know I not alone. 🙂
    I’ve love books since I was small, sit and look at my teenage uncles text books. Long before I could read, those books fascinated me. 🙂

    • Merry, I was the same way. I couldn’t wait to learn to read. I loved text books and the dictionary (with all those tiny illustrations) and World Book Encyclopedia and pretty much everything with printed words, from coloring books to cereal boxes.

  11. LB

    I so agree with you! It is a comfort to be surrounded by books. I have them stacked in several places around my house and in several book shelves. I keep joking (but am serious) that my son is going to be cursing my name someday when he has to donate all my books 🙂

    • Aw, probably not. In fact, he may actually end up keeping many of them himself. But if he doesn’t, there will be plenty of people and places that will be happy to have them. At least that’s what I tell myself about my own books. 😀 No matter how many bookshelves I buy, I end up filling them and stacking books everywhere else. They are definitely my favorite furniture, decor and hobby! It’s always an instant connection when I meet another book lover.

  12. MaryAnn

    A great JOY for me is seeing a child “get it” & are then able to read! Reading opens up their
    ability to conquer all the subjects.
    To my dear Librarian: As a youngster, I walked home from school & would stop at the library for yet another book to enjoy. Generally, I have 6 to 8 library books on hand. It almost feels like panic when I have read them all & have not replaced them in a timely fashion. 😀 !

    • Mary Ann, I remember that “panic” feeling well — when I was a little girl, we were allowed to check out only 5 books at the public library, and two at the school library. Trips were strictly limited to once every two weeks (by my mother’s refusal to drive to the public library more often than that, and the school which thought we needed to learn something else besides reading for fun). Since I finished my classwork quickly and was allowed to read until time for something else, I went through those books in no time. In 3-4 days I would be left without ANYTHING to read (except the World Book Encyclopedia and Childcraft) and the time between library visits seemed to drag on forever.

      I have a vivid memory of seeing an adult woman come into the College Park Public Library and turn in a plastic clothes hamper full of books, only to fill it again with more to check out. Adults were allowed unlimited titles! I watched that woman with as much envy as I would have felt for a princess or superhero, and told myself someday that would be me. I now have about 8-10 different library cards (and those are just the ones in Virginia!) and check out all the books I want! And it’s sometimes an embarrassingly large number. Not to mention I went to library school…a bit of deprivation can be a powerful motivation, apparently! I’m glad you understand. 😀

      • MaryAnn

        Ah! Yet another trait we share! I feel so blessed to be in your good company! (Like the Bible teaches us to surround ourselves w/ “good companions”~~paraphrasing~~)

        • Thank you, Mary Ann! I feel likewise. ❤ ❤ ❤

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