Saturday, 24 October 2015

Smelling the weight of years

I wandered into a second hand bookshop today. I love bookshops, the smell of new books is wonderful. The fresh ink, the crisp pages, unturned, unread....
But second hand books have a different life. There's a stage where a book has been read a few times, handled a few times, and it's a well read book. Books are wonderful things, but the difference between a freshly printed book and a read one is like making a new friend. First you dance through conversations, discovering new things about each other. Then after a while you know which brand of tea they like, how they take their coffee, which song will get them singing if it comes on the radio. Then there are your best friends, your longest standing friends, the ones who've shared the best times, the worst times, the ones who are your memories.
The freshly printed book is your new friend, you're still getting to know them for the first time. Those are special moments.
A well read book is a good friend, who you've known for a while.
But the old book with that special old smell, that one is the friend you've had since you were five, that smell is the weight of years, and memories.
It wasn't my oldest friend today, but it was someone's comfort, someone's memories, and it was 123 years of it. Today's book with that special smell was a bible printed in 1902, with a list of names from a bible study class from 1912, all male. I wonder how many went to fight 2 years after they wrote their names on that page. I wonder how many came back. I wonder how many weddings that bible has seen, how many christenings, how many tears. How many people have whispered their fears, sought guidance, begged for forgiveness.
That book has seen and survived so much, and can't tell us. But the smell is so rich, so laden with the weight of all it's seen.
In the end I didn't buy it, and the staff in the shop didn't laugh at me inhaling the scent of history. They just smiled, and pointed me to another shelf, with more old books.

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