The Eternal Beauty of Books

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By Hannah Czarick

Seacoast Scene, June 6, 2001

[The following article is courtesy of the Seacoast Scene

Librarian Cyndi Stosse (left): I like books because I couldn't read as a child and now I get to read them all. I like the feel of a book in my hand. It's like going in a fabric store -- I'm not going to buy everything, but I'm going to touch it all!"
Librarian Linda Miller: "With books you can escape to another world whenever you want. Or for just information. It's nice to hold something."
"There is no Frigate like a Book To take us lands away Nor any Coursers like a Page of Prancing Poetry" -- Emily Dickinson

What has been the appeal of books for so many years throughout the long span of history? The written form of the American language, translated onto paper for millions of pairs of eyes to skim; and as they understand the letters, there becomes a story that attracts the mind. After my family cleaned out the dusty recesses of my grandparents' basement a couple years ago, we were amazed by the treasures found locked, forgotten, in the piles of marble decorated boxes -- 500 page manuscripts on brittle, browned paper, nearly falling apart like some ancient Egyptian textile. Elegant calligraphy filled the pages and it became obvious that this was an authentic piece of Americana from the days when handwriting was a part of every student's repertoire; the date read "1776." Although I didn't understand a word, I was intoxicated with the beauty of the letters and more importantly, the mind of the writer and what he was daring to communicate. Little Women was the first novel I swallowed and not only did it assure what I wanted to do like Josephine March my entire life -- write -- but it also welcomed me into the fascinating state of mind that books have a tendency to control. The way they hypnotize a person and expose their ego to other possibilities, characters and ways of life. -- They are perhaps the best time traveling machines that the world will ever construct. My greatest achievement in the literary world was reading David Copperfield my freshman year of high school, a whopping 991 pages, all done in the tiny, antique English print. I would lie on my bed with a cup of tea, sipping it from its steamy china, and engulf myself into the life of the poor little boy through his personal epic, occasionally peering out my north window at the crackled leaves protecting the lawn as a deep orange dusk fell through. Of course the best time to read an entire book, swiftly flying through the chapters like a hound on a fox hunt, are those winter evenings when snow falls in giant, detailed flakes and music plays from the wind outside in nurturing melody or mornings when the rain is pattering on the roof and the sky is blushed a stark gray. I look at the novels and the hardcovers, panting off my bookshelf. I am convinced that I need to pay some attention.

Its fascinating how the literary world has become such a popular business again to the general public, though its something that can never become a trend because like people, books have an eternal quality to them; though the content and the form may alter a bit according to the era, the spirit and the medicinal affect they have on the human mind is a piece and the symbol of a need that we have to know other worlds, to feel foreign thoughts and to become an expert on everything. Humans always have been greedy and with books it is somewhat possible to fulfill this drive! As I drive to the Lane Library in Hampton and open the doors into the building I have been going to regularly since I was a three-foot tot, I realize that this place still has magic. Tromping through the aisles, my sneakers skidding the plastic and my wet hair dampening my forehead, I skim the rows of mysteries and then drama, new fiction and horror. It might be a good afternoon to freak myself out with the Silence of the Lambs or perhaps The Shining. It's not winter but images of an old haunted hotel can be projected upon the most stable person's psyche in the right environment. This place is calm. It has a mellow feel, very innocent and old-fashioned, even though computer stations buzz from the corner in place of the old wooden card catalogs. In the "New Hampshire Room," a separate little , space devoted to history books and family records, I stand among the round oak table in the silence. Musty smells drift to the sensory patches beneath my nose and a marble bust gleams coolly at my own neck and head. I finger through the copies of thirty-year old collections about the Isles of Shoals, Celia Thaxter and the White Mountains. Unchanged. And that is the way it will hopefully remain. I watch the people haunting this building -- teenagers cross legged on a chair with a new copy of a fashion magazine poised on their thighs, a busy career women dressed in pinstripe skirts with mounds of papers being subjected to the eagle eye of her ballpoint pen, elderly men sitting slouched, donegal tweed hats on their heads and rain slickers as they turn the pages of a worn out novel, and finally the children who are the most perplexed with words yet fascinated by the pictures and the tale itself. In this place, this crowning dim royal palace of books and words and the English language, each person has a unique characteristic - they are totally and ultimately transfixed in their own minds. Nobody talks much, and that is not because silence is an unspoken rule in a library, but because those who seek out the company of new characters and countries and situations through books, are completely surrounded individually with plenty of gossip and friends through the pages.

Many people today do not claim to be avid readers, but they unfortunately are all literary worms in one way or another: men read hunting and fishing magazines on the john, the grumpy father who might be in the habit of swallowing the daily newspaper along with his toast and coffee, or the fashion-obsessed guru who has a subscription to every woman's magazine on the marketplace. Their eyes are conjuring new words and information they are reading. And it is wonderful.

And then when the crisp New England summer comes in its unique form, a new opportunity arises for gulping away a novel. One is in a different mindset with the arrival of breezy afternoons on the water, with whitecaps slapping the side of a sailboat like bits of frosting, and in the evening surrounded by candles as the crickets pray and sing into the night. It brings a new, relaxed and blissful moment for speaking to a story. And then I see myself on the wide expanse of beach at low tide. The sun is boiling the sand and my feet are dry as I sit comfortably on my striped beach towel. A book is held open and I am dancing into its pages, escaping the intense heat while particles of sand creep into the spine and crackle gleefully as they make the book an integral part of the sea.


Asking the Lane Library Staff: "Why Are You a Bookaholic?"
Librarian Jeanne Gamage (on the left) "Reading is exciting -- it takes you away. It's wild. (on the book, "Exalibris" by Ross King) By the time I had finished the 1st page, I was at the London Bridge in a bookstore called Nonsuch, with a 40 year old guy with a club foot, who can't see and has a strange letter. I felt the fog and the whole mood."
Librarian Mary Twomey: "Books can take you to different lands and give you different perspectives on life. And they are so varied, suspense, mystery, drama, history, comedy."
Librarian Joanne Straight: "It's relaxation and escape as well as knowledge."
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