When I was a little girl, I remember my dad asking my mom what she wanted for her birthday. She replied, “A hundred bucks and three hours alone at my favourite used book store.” She got it, and returned from the store with multiple cardboard boxes full of used books. At the time I thought it was a very strange birthday request; now I completely understand. My idea of heaven (among other things) is to be alone in a bookstore, preferably used, with no children to chase, and a long, uninterrupted stretch of time in which I can peruse the books to my heart’s content before buying them.
Any sign that says “books” or “bookstore” gets my immediate attention and an accompanying heart flutter. I do “drive-by readings,” in which I slow right down and assess the store from what’s displayed in the window. I’ll often plead with my husband to take the kids somewhere, anywhere, just to give me ten minutes alone in a book store. When the local library has its ongoing book sale throughout the summer, I’m there every few days, checking and rechecking to make sure I didn’t miss something fabulous. Books are one thing I’m happy to collect, for few things bring me as much joy as gazing upon my bookshelves, laden with stories, knowledge, and learning; they are windows into other lives and worlds, great adventures just waiting to be lived.
My books tell stories beyond those contained within their pages. I can tell you where and when I got every single book I owned, whether it was new or used, and how many times I’ve read each one. As an English major, I loved being ‘forced’ to buy a whole bunch of books at the beginning of each semester, and then having to read them one after the other – it was a dream come true, a degree made in Paradise!
My book collecting really took off when I was about twelve, thanks to the arrival of a big box on the front steps of my house. Inside, my sister and I discovered two dozen beautiful, brand new, young adult books, with a mysterious note signed “Mr. Smallbridge.” We soon found out that Mr. Smallbridge was a former client of my father’s and a retired teacher. He had a cottage on a nearby lake and, upon hearing from my dad that my sister and I were book-loving children, took it upon himself to give us fresh literature. Over the course of many more years, Mr. Smallbridge could be counted on to drop off a box brimming with books at least twice each summer. I look back on that as one of the highlights of my childhood, and intend to do the same for some other book-loving children someday.