Friday, March 19, 2010

The Smell Of A Story

The book signing at the Clifton Forge Public Library was a success last night. There was a good turnout and I sold some books. The speech I gave didn't even seem to bore anyone. So all in all, I'd say it was a complete success.

It's been a busy week and I've barely been home this week to do anything other than sleep. It's also been a week wherein the little things aren't bouncing my way. I have a philosophy that says if you can make all the little things go your way, then the little things will add up to the big things. When you live by a wing and a prayer like I tend to, you really need the little things to bounce your way.

To make things go my way again, I bought a book this morning. I've found recently that my taste in literature has changed. I couldn't begin to tell you the last time I picked up a fantasy novel to read. I dabble in science fiction these days, mainly to keep pace with the Star Wars and Star Trek universes. No, I've become intereted in more literary and historical fiction since last fall.

So, to celebrate the book signing last night and to make the world start spinning my way again, I purchased Wobegone Boy by Garrison Keillor. To make it better, the book cost me $0.01 and the shipping $3.99. I've learned to be frugal since being laid off, but I've also remembered the glorious days of used books.

I have my own private library. I've been building it for years. Recently, I trimmed it back to what I call the essentials - books that I've read or actually have an interest in and intend to read. At present count, I've just about 11 books in my library I haven't read and that list tends to hover around that number. Three of those are Patrick O'Brian novels, two more are Don Quixote and The Count of Monte Cristo and the remaining six or so I can't name off the top of my head. Wobegone Boy will make an even dozen.

When I was younger, money was harder to come by since I didn't have a job and depended on my parents' goodwill to fund my reading. In between trips to the library I'd get Mom to take me down to Mountain Book Store on Main Street in Covington. It was a small little store that had plenty of used books for half price or better and a science fiction nook at the back of the store that gave me hours of enjoyment. Used book prices would allow me to stretch what money I had and buy more books, so it just made sense to me.

Later in life, as I had my own job and spare cash for the reading, I only bought new books and kept them in near pristine condition as I read them. Some of you out there may scoff at that, but when you've read as many books as I have, you learn how to read them without destroying them.

A few months ago, I actually had some cash in my pocket and a little time to kill in Roanoke so Bethany and I stopped in at The Paperback Exchange on Williamson Road. Truthfully, I was looking for something to read without paying a great deal for it, because I knew that her surgery was going to leave us with some medical bills and I didn't want to spend frivoulously. So it may have been me trying to save a little money that brought me back around to used books, but in my heart, I think it was the smell of the store.

If you've ever been in a used book store, then you know what I'm talking about. It's an almost musty smell, the combination of glue, ink and slowly yellowing pages. It's the smell of stories I've never read, some that I may never know...It's the smell of literary possibility and it makes me just want to take a moment and take a deep breath of literature.

The only variation of ever known of this smell was at Wilmington Beach in the Carolinas (I can't remember North or South. I was a kid at the time. Cut me some slack). There was a used book store near the beach there. It didn't have a great deal of books, but it had the smell. Except there, the smell was tinged with the smell of the ocean. It was enough to drive a young kid to look for some kind of story about the ocean among the dusty books.

But what I remember most about the store was the guy running it. He sat behind an old counter. He was mostly bald, but he did have tufts of white hair that stuck out in a variety of directions. He wore half moon reading glasses low on a bulbous nose and his face was tanned and weathered, with a lifetime written in the lines of that visage. I don't remember his name. We only spoke long enough for him to ring up my purchase of Clive Cussler's Cyclops, but he just looked like a man who had stories to tell.

That was the only time I'd ever been to Wilmington Beach and the only time I set foot in that book store. I want to go back. Bethany and I even talked about swinging by the beach on the last couple days of honeymoon just for the fun of going to a beach. I've often wandered if his little store is still open. If I ever make it back down there, I'm going to see if I can find him.

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