That new book smell. Why hasn’t Yankee Candle created this scent? (Note: invent and trademark New Book candle smell immediately, sell formula to Yankee Candle, reap millions, retire to private island in the Mediterranean). It’s the smell of crisp, fresh cut paper mingled with the slightly smoky scent of ink. It’s the bouquet of discovery and possibility distilled along with the piquant accents of pages and binding. I would buy that candle scent by the case.
When I was an undergrad in college, winter break meant two things: Heading home to stay up late, sleep in later, and roam around my mother’s house unwashed and fed on demand. It also meant spending weeks lost in the gorgeous, delicious stack of new books waiting for me under the tree. I was not a very cool person in college or in real life.
Books were my constant companions from as early as I can remember. The local library was my Studio 54 (Note: bankroll an outrageous nightclub that doubles as a library, maybe somewhere in Amsterdam, sell to Mark Zuckerberg, reap millions, retire to private island off the coast of Guam). The linguistic acrobatics of Dr. Seuss gave way to the completely unforeseeable plot twists of the intrepid Nancy Drew. I eventually tumbled into an entire galaxy of writers who grabbed me by the wrist to race with them through their garden mazes of fantastic narratives and incredible worlds. Nothing made me happier at age six, thirteen, or twenty-two than climbing inside the hull of a book and setting sail for hours. Books were more than a cheap, easy getaway, they were white stones placed on a trail, leading me to places inside myself stirred to life by imagination and inventiveness. I was home.
As a literature major in college (surprise, surprise), I read all the damn time. Some authors I could have easily broken up with after the first date. Hey, D.H. Lawrence, why don’t you go work out your mother issues with someone else. Others I wanted to hog tie to my radiator and make them write just for me alla Misery. No judgment. Poetry, nineteenth-century lit, twentieth-century feminist writers, Postmodern British fiction—I sucked it all up like a biblio-Hoover.
My tastes swung wider and more esoteric the further I waded out in my ocean of writers. These were the dark, dank, lonely years before the magic of the Internet connected and ruined us all. I routinely asked professors for lists of recommended authors based on the syllabus; I used them as my own personal Amazon—“if you liked this, you might like this—“ and they did not disappoint.
My mother saw this in a slightly different light, through the prism of the person tasked with rounding up titles from strange-sounding authors that were the complete opposite of John Grisham or Stephen King. She must have felt like Dorothy sent from Oz to kill the Wicked Witch with nothing but her determination and a pair of impractical shoes. Many of the books had to be ordered by the bookstore. Some came from publishing houses in England and didn’t make it in time. At one point, she meted out her own Christmas disclaimer: “Please pick two or three that you really, really want.” A gift card handled the rest.
Even getting two books off that list was totally worth it for the joy of settling into weeks of blissful reading. The singular, melodious crack of a virgin spine and the soft thrush of new pages ruffled one after another. Meth for book lovers. (Note: While this is an awesome marketing idea, do not get caught up in the drug trade. You are not Walter White and this is not Breaking Bad. Reap millions through tax evasion like everyone else, retire to a private island in the Caribbean).
These days reading feels more like a guilty pleasure than part of a critical, wonderful practice that I once treated with the same kind of focus and intention I reserve for things like exercise and work. I might read a little before bed, on the weekends if the weather is nasty, on public transportation, or maybe if I have a bit of time to kill in between dances. I’ve meted out these random blocks of time assigned as “acceptable” reading periods. What the hell is that all about? I remember Mrs. Sinnibaldi, my fifth grade teacher, allotting us one day a week to read quietly for 15 or 20 minutes. I remember feeling like I would die of an aneurysm from the injustice of having such a tragically limited time with whatever book I was reading.
What happened? Where did the magic I once felt coursing through the stack of books on my bedside table go? What changed? Hey books, it’s not you, it’s me.
Recently, this realization hit me with a blunt thud. I gave myself permission to unplug for the holidays and found myself burning through the third and final book just released in a series that I had really enjoyed. The book came out weeks ago, but I purposely “saved” it for the end of the month when I knew I could gift myself time to read it. There is so much wrong with that sentence, I don’t even know where to start. What is this “saving” a read bullshit? That’s like leaving a piece of seven-layer chocolate cake on the counter for the perfect, right moment. No. You eat that damn piece of cake immediately if not sooner.
And that’s just what I did, gulping down that book like a marathoner carb loading before the race. I felt the spark and pull of the pages, the world I couldn’t wait to disappear into, and I gave into it, wholly. It was a satisfying read, but more than that, it was a satisfying experience; it felt tremendous to tear into a book again, to treat the time spent lost in those pages as sacred and necessary. Books, writing, reading—these are the things that fuel me deeply personally and professionally. At some point in the long runway after college, I told myself differently. Gradually, for so many reasons, I turned away from what I knew to be true for me about books and reading, how important these things were in my life, in order to put my energy into other places, which it turns out, took me further away from myself.
Some parts of yourself fall away so quietly you hardly notice. They land like shadows. Whatever you pick up to fill their absence falls short, like those puzzle pieces a little warped and buckled from dampness—they fit, but not quite. Those are the places that deserve your attention, they never stopped being part of your authenticity, they want a chance to be a recognized part of you again. Let them or drown without knowing who you really are. It’s that simple.
Books, you and I are getting back together. I’m sorry it took so long for me come around. I really, really missed you. And, okay, your smell. Let’s never break up again, okay?