Visiting Books

I sank to the floor in front of the claw-footed bookcase. Two out of the three doors are missing their glass, victims of dining room chairs thrust backwards. Now dust gathers on the shelves at the feet of my oldest books. I’d come to visit them.

There is inevitable mystery in this, I thought, selecting an old French Bible, carefully withdrawing it from its neighbors. It is unlike any other book I have. The leather is thick, and if left out, it swells outward. It needs neighbors to preserve its dignity. I gently touched the cover; who held it before me? What was their life like? What was the weather like the day it was made, the day it traveled from printer to shop; what did it pass by en route?

I took out another and another. I read inscriptions and examined doodles. “To my dear wife…”, “To my daughter…”

“Who were you?” I whisper, the fragile pages making a dry sound between my fingers. “Why do my own hands hold your book now? How did this come to be?”

There are treasures sometimes; scrawled sentiments in the margins, newspaper clippings, small strips of paper with notes. It gives me an archeological thrill to leave the things where they may have been placed, some in the early 1800’s, without being moved by another. There’s water damage on the pages; what happened? A leaking roof? A spilled cup of tea? Some smell of damp, some of wood fire. Of course I smell them. This is a thorough visit.

They’ll outlive me I think; that is the thing with precious antiques, that the older they grow, the more valuable and rare and dear they become. I’ll replace the glass, of course, to protect them. They’ll only be in my keeping for my life, but I’ll do what I can so another set of hands can visit them, another nose to read the bouquet of story they hold, another mouth to smile at the doodles.

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