Sunday, August 26, 2007

The Internet Doesn't Smell

I remember many years ago when the bookcase in the corner of my parents’ living room contained a complete set of Encyclopedias, a lovely collection of books about wildlife, a collection of classic literature including the plays and sonnets of Shakespeare, a collection of children’s fairy tales and the Holy Bible.

That was my library as a kid. And as a lover of books from an early age, I spent a lot of time leafing through all those pages. I liked the smell of books and the feel of them. I liked to stack them up, move them around, leave bookmarks in the really interesting pages.

In grammar school I discovered the library and because it was often a requirement for school work, I balked at spending time there. In college, I lived in the library. Research was practically my religion.

Once I graduated, I went through that rebellious period where I only read for pleasure. Then newspapers and magazines became my research material of choice. I wanted to know what was going on NOW, not what had happened way back THEN.

Then I rebelled again and I cancelled my magazine subscriptions. I don’t care what the celebrity of the week had for breakfast anymore. My newspapers often go right in the recycling bin unread. Real life is depressing. That’s why I write fiction.

Now, almost thirty years after I decided I wanted to write for a living, I don’t own a set of encylopedias. I don’t think my kids would know what to do with research material you don’t access with a keyboard and a mouse. At my fingertips I have dictionaries, thesauruses, wikis, databases and the collected knowledge of everyone from experts to laymen on just about any subject I can name. I can Google, Ask Jeeves and Yahoo whenever I want.

But I still miss the smell of those encylopedias. I miss climbing up into the couch with a heavy, glossy-paged book in my hands intent on the journey of discovery. I miss paging through letter after letter on a lazy afternoon and picking up tidbits of all kinds of things. I miss sitting with reference books spread all over my desk with sticky notes stuck all over them and pencils balanced behind my ears.

I’m planning a trip to the library. I haven’t spent time there since I graduated college. I don’t have a particular research project in mind at the moment, but I thought it would be nice to go and familiarize myself with the place again, to get to know the stacks and the layout, to steep myself in the smell of books again.

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