There is an old picture of me, taken when I was around five years old. I’m cuddled up against my teddy bear and holding a book, looking serious. Left and right, a tall bookshelf filled to the brim looks over me.
Growing up, I was always surrounded with books. My mom would take me to the library with her every week and we would borrow piles and piles of stories. And yet I never managed to like the library as much as she did. There was something about it that bothered me. It made books feel less… special. With those labels on their spine and that awful stamp on the first page, they never quite felt mine. And indeed, they weren’t, as I was always reminded by the looming date by which to return them. But that distance kept me from bonding with them. This may sound ludicrous to people who don’t feel particularly attached to books, but for me, it makes all the difference in the world. Owning a book makes me feel closer to its story, almost as if I belong to it as much as it belongs to me. With a book I own, I can relish in the relationship that only I may have with it; I can take my time and take in the story in small sips, or I can devour it and read on until the early hours of the morning.
There are things only that book will know of me as I get to know all about the quality of its pages and the bend of its cover. That is why it feels so wrong for me to have to give it back once I am done with it, having poured so much of myself into it and received so much in exchange. It feels like saying goodbye to a love I can never fully have because they never belonged with me.
So I don’t like libraries. Whenever I am in one, I sort of shrug along the alleys looking for something – anything – I might like. Bookshops, on the other hand, are a temple. They hold the promise of so many relationships, discoveries, travels… The promise of so many secrets to be shared. In a bookshop, I feel myself reaching for each volume as if it speaks to me. This one is beautiful. That one is intriguing. And this one has to be mine. The knowledge that I can come home with a new friend to cherish, a new teacher to learn from, and most of all, all the time that I need to appreciate my new book, is one of the best feelings.