Once a quarter during college, I’d receive my financial aid and go on a book-buying binge. I’d vow to spend my remaining money wisely enough that I’d be able to keep the books.
Once a quarter, nearer its end, I’d look at my books and wish they were nutritionally as well as intellectually sustaining. I’d then haul them to Smith Family Bookstore, where I’d trade one form of sustenance (books) for cash for the other (food).
Only a handful of books survived my college days. Fewer still moved overseas and back with me. Twice.
Early last year, my dear friend Sarah started recommending books she knew I’d like. A Brief History of Montmaray didn’t just suck me into its own pages but back into reading. By the end of 2011, thanks to copious readwalking, I’d read 40ish books. Most of those were ones I’d bought myself, which meant I was adding books to my shelves* knowing I really would be able to keep them this time around.
Since my return to reading, most of my books have come from Amazon. With time in short supply, it’s been convenient to click straight from a review to my online shopping cart, having to waste time on nothing more than cutting open a box.
It was all so easy, I forgot how I used to enjoy the book-buying experience. In bygone days, I’d spend hours maneuvering through stacks of books and savor the weight, feel and smell of each book I touched, whether or not any given book came home with me. Being surrounded by books was better than being surrounded by anything else in the entire world, and in the presence of so many books I felt the vastness of the world represented across all those pages.
What reminded me of the cost of “ease”?
I’d driven by it many times before I actually stopped and peeked in a couple of weeks ago. With my little one, Li’l D, close at heel, I picked up books based on a combination of color, title and whimsy before scanning their blurbs and selecting some. Unlike the old days, my perusing time was limited.
Also unlike the old days, I was able to partake of the goodness of sharing the book-buying experience with my own little (pre-)reader. I left with five books; Li’l D, three. Sadly but predictably**, Li’l D’s favorite thing about his books was learning that pop-up books are really fun to demolish. (Li’l D: “Mommy, look! I have a monkey!” Mommy: “Sweetie, the monkey was supposed to stay in the book.”)
I had maybe ten minutes to explore. In ten minutes, with a little help from a little helper, I’d found eight books to take home. Each of those books has its own history, from inception in the writer’s mind to agent to publisher to reader to bookstore . . . and then to me. With each book I touched, I touched more than pages. I touched history. I touched humanity. I touched the words of others who make these things accessible and tangible.
As long as I read, I’m granted the ability to see this world and others through others’ eyes. This is the antithesis to loneliness.
I left the bookstore wondering how much time I’m really saving when I use Amazon. Am I saving minutes? Seconds? Is any “saving” worth the loss of really connecting with the individual books I decide to make part of my home, hopefully forever?
I’m not going to answer this question with a timer. I’m going to rely on intuition as I always used to. My intuition says the loss is greater than the gain, in most caess.
If I’m after a really specific book, I’ll still nab it off Amazon. But I’ll not keep making the mistake of thinking only books recommended by friends and available on Amazon are worth buying. There’s a whole world of books out there, and no matter how behemoth any online bookseller might be, its inventory reflects only a portion of what’s out there.
As for the portion in my own neighborhood? There’s little sweeter than seeing my future reader running through the stacks of knowledge that might someday become his own.
Do you still visit book stores? Libraries? What do books mean to you? Your kids?
* The floor counts as a shelf, right?
** “Curse you and your sudden but inevitable betrayal!” — Oh, man, have I ever been waiting for a chance to quote this! What Wash (Firefly) said.
© 2012 Deborah Bryan. All rights reserved.
Duplication in whole or substantial portion is explicitly forbidden.
I’m notorious for my bad memory. Oftentimes, when I meet people whose names I ought–and clearly do not–remember, they smile encouragingly and say, “That’s okay. I’m a face person, too.”
I appreciate their kindness in assuming I have to be good at remembering something, but it’s at this point I say, “Oh, no. I don’t remember those, either.”
Try as I might to remember all the details of my involvement with Big Brothers Big Sisters, most of them are lost to me. I can’t remember, for example, whether I was in third grade or fourth grade all those Wednesday afternoons I ran the couple of miles from my school to my Big Sister’s small apartment bordering the University of Oregon campus. I can’t recall why we stopped one of our craft-making sessions to enter the bowels of the strange, man-filled cavern she called a “fraternity,” where I clung to her like we were actually living The Exorcist. Also lost to me is what exactly I did with a pair of socks she loaned me on a rainy afternoon, cautioning me not to lose them because they held sentimental value for her. I don’t remember why this was, but I do remember her reaction when I told her I’d lost them.
My early experiences taught me bad news would often be greeted with violence, so it was hard gathering the courage to tell her. I still didn’t quite get what “sentimental” meant, but I knew it meant something was important. Which meant losing them would mean Bad News. If nothing else, she wouldn’t want to be my Big Sister anymore.
She was sad when I told her. I waited for her crushing response to my bad news, but instead found only a gentle smile. “That’s OK. I probably shouldn’t have expected them to come back.” Seeing my own heartbroken expression at this statement, she smiled wider and told me it wasn’t because she expected me to be bad, but that I was a little kid and losing things was something little kids excelled at.
A few months later, she graduated and moved. We kept in touch via snail mail for several months, but I eventually lost her address and wasn’t able to reply to her last letter.
Over the years, I’d think of how much I loved my time with my Big Sister. Most of the memories became a little frayed, then threadbare, then entirely dissolved, but the accumulated joy of my afternoons with her remained. I vowed I’d become a Big Sister myself someday. I thought about this vow often as my 18th birthday neared. It was always fairly non-commital: Yeah, I’ll totally get around to that. Someday. But it’s a long bus ride. And I’m just so, so busy!
When I was 19, I worked at the YMCA. During that time, the local Big Brothers Big Sisters lost much of its funding and opted to join forces with the local YMCA to keep operating. The more I interacted with its small staff, the more I felt like a tool for not having applied yet. For pete’s sake, they’re just upstairs, Deb! Get it together!
Eventually I did. Before too long, I was getting into the director’s beaten-up truck to meet my potential Little. He was saying something about how a lot of people were anxious they’d be rejected by their would-be Littles, but that he’d never once seen such a thing. Still, I asked him, “Well, what if? Say she doesn’t? Just for planning purposes . . .”
Eugene’s a lot smaller than Los Angeles, so neither the drive nor our conversation was long.
There’s much I don’t remember about that meeting. What I do remember is my new Little Sister, who didn’t reject me but instead asked, “Wanna see my room?!”
Twelve years later, that Little Sister remains a beloved part of my life. I occasionally peek at the journal Amelia and I shared during the last few months of our “official” match. I grin as I read entries recounting our reading The Neverending Story together and our trips for Peppermint Stick frozen yogurt with gummi bears on top. I giggle at her frequent tribute to Justin Timberlake.
Since we first became Sisters, I’ve moved to Los Angeles and Asia. Twice, in both cases. Amelia has graduated from elementary, middle and high school, and is preoccupied with thoughts of J.T. no longer! Our relationship is more complex than it was when we were both younger and less busy, but it remains a source of joy and inspiration.
Being a Big Sister has been a blessing. I wonder if my Big Sister feels the same, all these years later. Does she remember me? Does she have any idea how much her patience and encouragement meant to me? I hope so.
We may never speak again, but the conversation doesn’t have to continue in the present for her impact on my life to continue into it. Indeed, almost every time I hear the word “sentimental,” I smile and wonder what my Big Sister is doing these days. I may not know what exactly she’s up to, but if she had her way, she’s not only practicing but rocking medicine now.
The commitment Big Brothers Big Sisters requested was once a week, most weeks, for one year. Occasionally I think on this and marvel that from such a small commitment such abundant, lifelong joy may flow.
I may not have the greatest memory, but those feelings? They’re the kind the stick with a girl through the decades, no matter what else she may forget, or remember.
* * *
Read Amelia’s post here!