I went to a book exhibition that had a few thousand second hand books stacked up in an old room. It was like a fairyland to anybody who loves books.I took a minute to take in the musty redolent smell of paper and ink that filled the room.
Have you ever walked into a second hand bookstore and touched the books that once belonged to someone else?
The feeling is quite unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.
I picked up a copy of Pride and Prejudice from one of the dusty shelves. The book was rotting with old yellowish golden pages tattered here and there. There were squiggly pen marks which made it look like someone had done a lot of reading. Nostalgia!
I received my first copy of Pride and Prejudice from someone very close to my heart.
When I was 12 years old my English teacher made my class enact a part of Pride and Prejudice. As luck would have it she made this guy on whom I had a huge crush at that time read the part of Mr. Darcy. I crossed my fingers and waited for her to call out my name and my joy knew no bounds when she said i could be Elizabeth!
I remember silently thanking Austen for all those beautiful words that she had written because hearing my crush say all those things gave me butterflies. And because of this, I smile every time I see a copy of Pride and Prejudice.
And then I wondered, what was the story behind this copy of Pride and Prejudice that now lay in my hands?
My brother and I used to fight a lot till we both found our shared love for books. We used to read Enid Blyton and other fiction over a shared cup of lemonade and cookies (Yes! Just like the kids in her books!!) and ever since then he has been a protective brother right out of an Enid Blyton book.
Did each copy of Famous Five and Goosebumps that lay in that second hand book store have the pride of two siblings fighting over it?
This was the first time I brought home almost a hundred books that were previously owned by someone. More than the books, I was curious about their journey. How had these books reached my hands?
For the less imaginative the stains on the books and tearing of pages are natural occurrences over a period of time. For me, each book told me something about the person who had read it before me.
Was it a serious reader who tried to underline each word he didn’t understand and wrote down their meanings next to the word?
A hopeless teen who had bracketed every lovey-dovey quote in the book?
A fresh unused book that always lies on a busy man’s shelf hoping he would pick it up someday?
A dreamy young woman holding a copy of Mills and Boon and sighing about why men are never straight out of books?
The truth is as you hold a book in your hand like a little baby and flip through those pages with your fingers, not only something about you, but something about the book also changes. We gain perspective from books, but we also lose a part of ourselves to it.
We may live in an age of e-book readers and book reading applications but each good book I own is like a part of myself. I want to own books on which I can write in my squiggly handwriting. I want to cry over them, touch them and hug them. I want to hold them close wherever I go.
And then, who knows where they may end up one day?
Maybe they will tell my life story to someone who I would never get to know.