I don't own many books anymore – which is strange, for an English major (yes, I have a degree, but referring to my studies as if they're ongoing seems apropos for reading, writing, thinking, and generally trying to understand the world a little bit better) – most of my school-related material I sold off in one of my periodic fits of minimalism a half-decade ago, keeping only some poetry, a few essay collections, and Shakespeare (one nod to my humanities education).
(One that I kept.)
It's weird to me because I generally look at a bookcase as a badge of sorts – an adjunct to my records, a histogram of what I've been interested in, causes I support, and items that I wish I was smart enough to understand. When we stay at someone's house (usually via Airbnb); I can't help but look through their books, to get a picture of where they've come from academically, or, at least, what a relative bought them last Christmas when the aisles of Half Price Books are littered with boot snow and scrawled lists.
Our collection has been finely whittled to mostly cookbooks, art books, and monographs, with a sprinkling of essays, literature, and related magazines. And yet – I still love the smell of cracking open a fresh book, pages stiff and binding crackling, the bright, biting, near-chemical smell of ink wafting upwards while I noisily thumb through the pages to scan for pictures, or break in the pages, or just to flip through and absorb the je ne sais quoi that comes from opening up a book for the first time. I won't lie; I've been known to stick my nose near the binding and breathe a deep, contented breath.
(A recent gift for Amelia. Hat-tip to Powell's and their flat-rate shipping.)
Even gently (or not so) used books, brittle, yellowed, with their own mustiness absorbed out of the air of whatever shop, crate, case, or hovel they inhabited – each imparting its own terroir into the now-splayed pages. Now, I often order used books online, but those still transport me back to the dim aisles of Don's Books in a cold Kokomo warehouse, searching the unorganized shelves for more Asimov as a 16-year old; or stopping in from the cold at Bloomington's Caveat Emptor, checking my messenger bag next to the clunky cassette and CD rack on the counter; or getting lost in Powell's for three days running, sipping coffee while flipping through the weirdest and funkiest zines I could find...