The Collection

I haven’t been in the Holden Reading Room as much as I would like, and were I to allow myself to, abandoning other responsibilities, I’d become a hermit. Staying there for long periods of time though is not quite as dizzying as holing myself up in the library, for when I emerge from the small library cubicles I step back exclaiming, What! The sun! It is so bright. And people! But in Holden, windows stretch from the high ceiling downward, creating a nice luminescence from the sun on the table. It is a bit warmer, and the ceiling is high and painted. Of course, the amenities that accompany me to libraries – thermos, pens – are not allowed and, surprisingly, they are not all that much missed, either. And, despite my doubts, I did manage to function without coffee for a couple of hours.

I am informed that Barry Lopez does not like to write using any device but a typewriter, for laptops and computers are impediments to capturing his thoughts on paper. Typewriters are a kind of art now, like handwritten letters. I saw a contest in the Mountain Gazette the other day asking for entries consisting of artistic envelopes. I sent it out to my friends via email, ironically, because we all had spent some time drawing on the front of the letters we sent to each other as snail mail.

Of each collection, I fancied the letters of correspondence, from handwritten postcards to the impressive letterheads of magazines. An exhilaration coursed through me as I tenderly touched a paper that has passed from author to editor and to friend and back to author. Each paper revealed another story of the book. Sometimes entire paragraphs were omitted because they didn’t fit, but what was left out was also a pleasure to read.

Even in my library copy, there were not only Rick Bass’s imaginative stories to read – other, less formed stories had touched the book. A light green ticket for the String Cheese Incident, a performance held in “the backyard” in Austin, TX was placed between the pages. That is the great thing about paper books compared to electronic – they hold the reminiscences of other curious minds, if not a ticket then a stamped time on the library due date page. One time I found a love letter on an index card used, supposedly, as a bookmark in a tattered thrift store book. A coffee stain, fingerprint. They were signatures, at one time and place an unknown person touched this book, wasn’t very careful with it, and then passed it on, or perhaps it was found on a person who passed, tucked into one of the inside pockets of his jacket, or perhaps this book has traveled from a man living in the Netherlands who likes to wear tea cozies on his head and owns a llama named Wilma. Or maybe it once passed through the hands of my neighbor…

It was art, this tiny essence of others that have touched and pondered what I have read. It was like a small communication between them, the author, and me. For one reason or another, we came across this very book, this very page. The questions about them bubbled as furiously as the questions I have about the people next to me in traffic. Where are you going? Where are you from? In that brief moment, amongst a fleeting community, we stared across at each other, wondering, before the light turns green. This is how I feel when I touch a used book.

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About Sarah Miller

Undergraduate student in Environment and the Humanities at Texas Tech University
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