By Alexandra Young
The smell of the aging paper, sweet and musty, almost instantaneously invigorates my senses. With the aroma alone, I can sense a history. When entering used bookstores, I look for the most veteran books. The more yellowed and thinned the paper, the better.
My love of used bookstores started with a walk with friends. We were killing time before the late-night showing of a movie. We came across a billiards parlour, but weren’t allowed to play because we were all 15. Then I saw it: a calvary of wooden carts on 12th street. As I came closer I realized that they were full of old books. I was so intoxicated by them. After 15 minutes of my chirping about how many books were there, Sarah suggested that we go inside. “There is an inside?” When we walked in the store, I was surprised to see how many people were there at this untimely hour. It was methodically chaotic; full of people, like me, hiding their true voraciousness. For 30 minutes in this place, nothing could distract my focus. I forgot about the movie until I was almost-forcibly dragged out of the store by my friends, who were entirely jaded by this scene. But for me, my appetite was not close to satiated.
I love used books for the same reason I respect Grand Central Station in New York City or the Cathedral de Notre Dame in Paris. They themselves are buildings with a purpose, a train station and a place of worship. However they are not just facilities, they are landmarks with a history and beauty. These edifices are visited, photographed and studied but are not sedentary. Used books are beautiful as entities; even the most worn out paperbacks are exquisite. They represent, to me, humans as we are, emotional souls rather than flesh beings. I am like a used book because I contain a story; the chambers of my heart are on their way towards yellowing with my own history. I am Alexandra.
I love history, and reading allows me to explore my passion for studying the past. Through both reading and history, I realize my own strengths are not solely based in my abilities, but in my desire to know more and the excitement I feel when stepping out of my cognitive comfort zones.
Second hand books provide a dual benefit: they contain the treasure of a story or piece of knowledge, and themselves are physical specimens of someone’s past experiences. It’s an added bonus if there are traces of the books’ previous owners — a name, a date, a location. While leafing through the pages, I am in fact giving the book a new life.
Why collect used books? Why not coins, stamps or some other collectible? It’s because I love reading. I crave to enter different worlds and leave with new perspectives. Even the most seemingly rudimentary text can provide me with a better historical, scientific or philosophical understanding of the world. As Betty Smith wrote in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, “the world was hers for the reading.” Exploring the situation in Afghanistan through a fictionalized account of a young boy’s experience in Khaled’s The Kite Runner, gave me the understanding that no newspaper article or scholarly text could ever provide. Reading allows me to learn and love many different things. Every book helps me break into the stiff pages and rigid spine of the book of Alexandra.
Alexandra is a graduate of The Hewitt Schools and a freshman at Tulane University.