University libraries smell different. They smell of old books and recycled air and ticking clocks, the same as other libraries, but there are different notes too. The smell of toner and carbon copy paper. Ink. Sneaky bottles of caffeinated beverages.
I am studying again, in a library even though I have an office at home with lovely natural light and white bookcases filled with texts. Somehow the artificial bright white light and the smell of toner and copy paper are more meaningful and I study better when I am here in my jeans and my hoodie in the middle of Summer with my feet curled up under me on the chair.
It is University holidays so it is quieter than usual and the quiet is welcoming. I like the tapping of the other computer keys and the click as the second hand navigates the clock on the wall. I like the clearing of throats from some unseen person in the corner and he librarian shuffling her things around in between checking facebook. I like the rumbling of the heavy metal cart that they use to replace books on shelves and the way it clangs across the tiles. I like the noisiness of the silence as the airconditioner hums in the background.
My newest textbook is open in front of me, its pages gilded at the edges so that when I get to a new page that I have not opened yet, I have to separate the pages. Proof that this is mine and mine alone. Somehow, for a brand new book they have managed to colour the pages into a sense of age and the type set is ever so subtly incomplete so that little chunks are missing out of letters. I love it. It looks old even though it is new.
I have always preferred new books. The excitement of birthdays and Christmas mornings when a brand new book smelling of brand new book would be opened and the first creases to be put into the paper spine would be caused by me and my reading. Even as an adult, this preference persevered, I think because of the novelty of having something new.
When I was a teenager, I came across the red cloth covered volume of Tennyson's poems from which this blog takes its title that belonged to my father. I have no idea if he bought it new, but I suspect, owing to both its age, condition and his financial status when he bought it, that it was not new. I have always loved it. Stole it from home, technically, without asking, because of that desperate love for it. It went to university with me, and lay on my cardboard box of a bedside table under the posters of wizards and dragons. I love that it is a book from history that has history of its own.
Earlier in the year, I was desperate to find a book that is not available in book stores. Even though it was an award winning book, it has not been republished in some time. I have its sequel, triumphantly scavenged from a second hand book fair but this book, one of my favourites of a childhood that refuses to end completely, has eluded me. I don't think I ever had a copy of my own - it was only ever a library book, so with the magic of the internet I searched for it.
The Book Depository didn't have it, but they suggested Abe Books, who I'd always been vaguely suspicious of. The idea of buying used books online feeling strange - I'm not sure why given my op shopped collection of Trixie Beldens. But they had my book, in a tiny independent store in Perth of all places in the world, and it would cost me merely $2. So I bought it, wondering how defaced the cover would be and if there would be pages missing.
Like the first time I'd read it, it was a library book, with the library plate still on the inside of the cover and the stamps from those who had borrowed it before, just like the one I'd read as a child. It was a different cover, so it wasn't *my* book, but this one, with its own history, that many other children had read before me, was somehow more special than any other. A new book would not have been the same because I'd already read it, had cracked the spine and smudged the pages. Had cried on a few. This was more my book than any reprint ever could have been.
I also bought, on the same day, for the princely sum of 2 pounds, Jane of Lantern Hill, the last written and published book of LM Montgomery's life. And it came to me with a piece bitten out of the cover and a little girl's name written on the inside cover in a childish script and although the book itself was not anywhere near my favourite, feeling like an idealised and slightly beatific version of Emily, it belongs on my shelf, because it too, was beloved by little girls who belong to the cult of PEI.
There is no other option, if I want to complete my collection of Trixie Belden's, especially if I want to know what happens in the last 2 books that I've never read. Unfortunately, due to the popularity and scarcity of these books, they are being offered at ludicrous prices of over $40 each online. There is part of me, though, that needs to know, desperately, if Jim ever kissed Trixie, after the lead up of all the books before then. But somehow I think I'm going to be disappointed. It's kind of nice, in a way, to know that the series has never finished for me, and that those books are still out there.
I wonder sometimes, when I look at our well worn copies of Harry Potter, and muse regularly about whether I think Snape was in fact part of one of the best stories ever written about unrequited love or just a slime ball if my girls will ever feel the same way about books. I hope so, because there is something still, that no e-reader can ever give, and that's the smell of type print that smears just a little under sweaty hands and tears that fall over stories that seem too real. And the way it feels to slide your fingers between gilt edged pages to open something that has never before been opened, and to learn something new.