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When I was three or four years old, the books my mother read to me were either Golden Books or books from the library. I do not remember the name of the first "cloth over board" books I owned, but I can remember the sensation of having accumulated three books standing tall on a small table in a bedroom I shared with my sister. The idea that I owned books - filled with words I was learning, with stories to tell me, and containing the endless possibilities of what the world had to offer - was breathtaking. That feeling - the emotion of having access to those worlds at my fingertips - was an unimaginable luxury. I have come to realize that this thrill is, in my sixty-one-year-old self, undiminished from my five-year-old self with my three little books on a table in our apartment on 19 Cooper Street, off 207th Street in NYC in 1954.
What has changed is that there are now thousands of books in my house, on floors, on stairs, on tables and in bookcases - not to mention over 40,000 books at R.J. Julia.
You often hear me talk about opening the bookstore with a desire to put the right book in the right hand, but maybe I opened it because I really wanted my own little secret garden. I still sometimes imagine spending the night alone in the bookstore and taking one book after another off the shelf and letting myself get enveloped.
The other day I ended up with 30 extra minutes when a friend was going to be late for dinner. This is why I need all the books all over - then I can serendipitously find the book for that moment, that mood. So, my eyes did not have to wander far - would it be a poetry book (The Shadow of Sirius by our new poet laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner W.S. Merwin) or a biography (by a meticulous biographer about a towering historical figure - Churchill Defiant by Barbara Leaming or Washington by Ron Chernow), perhaps a novel that is dark and brilliant and leaves me changed (David Grossman's To the End of the Land) or a philosophy book (How to Live: Or a Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer) or an exquisite photography book (Time by Andy Goldsworthy) or a new beautifully republished classic (Don Quixote).Then, I noticed on the landing a new book that has enchanted me - Atlas of Remote Islands by Judith Schalansky. This will be just the thing - the perfect way to spend these newfound minutes - I was a happy girl.
What do all these books have in common? Nothing, except they are mine and I love to see them and know that they are there. Would I miss How to Live if someone were to sneak in and take it? Probably not, but what if I suddenly needed it? To what lengths would I go to find it in another pile, thinking I had put it somewhere else? I know what color it is and the size, so surely I could find it...and I would feel pure satisfaction when I did.
My head and my heart need all these books around - reminding me there are worlds to explore, words to charm and stories to be told - at the ready when that spare moment of quiet presents itself and I am able to pick one up and dive in. Whether it's three books on my nightstand or twenty books on the floor, each is filled with hopeful potential.
My hope is that you will visit us and find just the right book standing tall on our shelves.
As we embark on 2011, all of us at R.J. Julia wish you a holiday season and New Year filled with space, air and words that will inspire, engage, educate and bring us all peace.
See you in the store,
Roxanne J. Coady