In books I found characters that transported me to places far away, like Anatole the French mouse whose adventures around Paris featured a smattering of French words. James who ventured into a giant peach to find other-worldly characters and lessons. Eloise, a little girl who lived in the Plaza Hotel in New York, got herself into the kind of trouble I would never allow myself to experience. And Margaret, from Judy Blume's "Are You There God? It's Me Margaret" whose questions about adolescence mirrored my own. Books beckoned me like nothing else and I fell into their stories with abandon.
For many years, my husband and I worked for a large bookstore chain and enjoyed a 33% discount on all our book purchases in addition to many free books given to us by publishing houses. Over nearly 10 years, we amassed a collection of popular fiction and non-fiction as well as a good majority of the classics. When we moved into our dream house in 2005, our books finally had an entire wall of bookshelves to themselves where they could be seen and browsed. Strangely, we didn't browse them, even though many of the titles we owned we had not read. Knowing that free books and cheap books were easy to get took away from their mystique.
My sons led me back into the public library. They delight at the story times, singing and dancing to nursery rhymes and quietly listening to books being read by animated librarians. I see their faces light up when we approach the doors of this "Church of the Published Word." They laugh and fill with energy as they scatter to explore the bookshelves looking for new friends and old friends that we can borrow.
Having left our jobs with the big bookstore giant, our family no longer has access to free and cheap books and, so, I too feel the excitement build as I browse the "New" book shelf in the library. As a member of three book reading groups, I now borrow books. I find that the imposed deadline of a return date and the crackly book covers make me more compelled to finish every book club choice and to yearn for the next title to be available for pick up from the nearest library branch.
When my little boys and I curl up on the big bed at night to read what we've checked out, I open each book and inhale that musty scent that takes me back. My boys laugh at me, like they laugh when I smell their feet and declare them "stinky." But I can't help indulging myself in what's become my sacred ritual.