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16 January 2005

The Library book

I love libraries. They are, quite literally, the places on earth I feel most comfortable. Reading is a solitary experience, but the communal nature of library reading infuses it with a sense of...family, in a way. We belong to physical families as a result of genetic similarity, library familiality is a result of like-mindedness.

My favorite thing, which is what has happened with my current book, Readingsby Sven Birkerts, is finding the receipt of a previous patron stuck between the pages of the book. Indulging myself in Birkerts' musings about reading and time and the human condition has opened a doorway to a place I barely remember but for which my longing has never died. That pure...simple place where exists the exquisite and innocent joy wrought by everything related to reading.

Books...the way they smell, the weight of a volume in hand, the texture of the page...are approached with the pitcher's intent ritual treading of the mound, with the sommelier's expert palate. Reading...that moment when when letters and punctuation vanish from the page and the mind leaves this world and enters another...is a meditation, a cleansing of thought and an unfettering of spirit. It's a way of taking a vacation from one's self. To view the world through new eyes, to experience our hearts desires expressed in words we cannot find ourselves; "we read to know we are not alone", as someone said.

So a year ago, this guy in Napa checked Birkerts' book out of the library. Readings, which is basically a book about books and the way in which they can help us make sense of our swiftly tilting, sharply spinning world; or if not make sense, at least give us a vocabulary with which to express our confusion. I love Birkerts' clear, spare, unsentimentalized sentiment, he expresses his thoughts in a way that gives me plenty of room for my own and I find the experience of reading Readings rather like enjoying a sherbet after dinner; a delightful preparation for the dessert of deep thought.

I wonder what Napa Guy thought? Does he feel as I do about Birkerts's writing? Does he find it difficult, as I do and Birkerts does, to reconcile our present with our recent past and near future? Does he relish the gifts of libraries and of books as much as I?

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