When I was eight months old, I said my first word: “Book.” I haven’t asked for very much else since.
When I was a kid, getting new books was the most exciting thing in the world. (And let’s be honest—it still is.) There was nothing better than going to a school book fair or poring over the Scholastic Book Club catalog and choosing what I wanted. It was like being set loose in a candy store, except everything was good for me, so I could have as much as I wanted. I don’t remember much about the kids in my elementary school classes or the games I used to play, but I vividly remember the books I read over and over. The Phantom Tollbooth. A Little Princess. Anne of Green Gables. The Trumpet of the Swan. Matilda. The Mozart Season. Gwinna. I cried over Black Beauty and Bridge to Terabithia. I devoured all the Little House on the Prairie books, then read them all out loud to my little sister as soon as she was old enough to understand them. In fourth grade, I read everything Judy Blume had ever written, then mourned when there weren’t any new ones left on the library shelf. In seventh grade, The Giver turned my world upside down, and it still hasn’t quite righted itself.
No matter how my world changed, Milo and Tock and Anne Shirley and Sara Crewe and Matilda and Louis the swan were there when I needed them, waiting on my shelf, steady and constant. And they’re still there for me now, raggedy and dog-eared but just as delightful as ever.
When people come over to my apartment, the first thing they always say is, “Wow, you have a lot of books.” Then I usually get, “Aren’t you afraid your floor is going to collapse?” or “You know, there’s this thing called the library,” or “You should get an e-reader, you’d save so much space.”
To all of you, I say this: I love the library. I go to the library at least once a week. But these books? These are the ones I want to own. And I have an e-reader. I have nothing against e-readers; any device that lets me dive into a good story is a device I endorse. I read books on my phone, my iPad, and my laptop (and my work computer—don’t tell my boss.) But if I’m really excited about a book, I need a paper copy. I have been known to purchase both paper and electronic copies of the same book. I have also been known to check something out of the library and then buy it as soon as I finish it, just so I can continue to have it near me.
I don’t want to save space. My books are my fortress; they make me feel protected and secure. Being able to see all those stories, all those characters I love, not on a screen but literally all around me as I sit on my couch, is the most comforting, satisfying feeling. I want to be able to pull something off the shelf and hold it in my hands. I want to feel its weight, feel the patterns of glossy and matte printing on its cover, smell its inky, papery smell. (I almost never buy a new book without smelling it—I often don’t even realize I’m doing it, and then I look like a freak in the bookstore. But I can’t help it.) I want to be able to mark a page with my finger and flip back a few chapters to compare a sentence I just read with one I read yesterday. And I want to be able to load my friends down with books when they come to visit me, because the only way to improve on a story you love is to spread it around.
So say what you will about electronic publishing being the future. I’ll never give up my mountain of paper. And I’ll never stop adding to it at what most people might consider an alarming rate.
Structural integrity of my apartment building be damned.