What Do You Take Comfort In?

Comfort of Books

by Nancy Miller, PVN resident (originally published in the June issue of The Village Bugle)


“Whenever I find myself in a strange city and feel lonely or uncomfortable, I look for a library or bookstore.  Or find some cafe with a bookcase, and sit next to it.  and feel suddenly and completely at home.” Best-selling author Louise Penny wrote that in her May newsletter to readers.

This is not about digitized vs. paper books.  After all, the content is the same.  I enjoy reading books on my Kindle.  This is about the real feelings that stir the senses when holding or even just seeing a physical paper book.  I wonder why many of us are affected that way?

Libraries filled with books have been a constant pleasure in my life since I was nine years old and living in tiny Crystal Springs, Mississippi.  The town had a Carnegie Library.  I could ride my bicycle to it, spend time perusing shelves of books, checking out a couple to take home.  And they were free!

I recall the 1940s when after lunch the breeze from open classroom windows was still warm.  My fifth-grade teacher, Miss Baron, let us pillow our heads on our desks to rest while she read to us.  It was so quiet we could hear her turn the pages of Richard Halliburton’s Book of Marvels.  I felt comfortable, protected, as I flew to far away places on a magic carpet of words.

And I’m not alone.  Books act as touchstones to our culture, to slower, less complicated times.  I think they give us a feeling of nostalgia along with visual and tactical satisfaction that comforts us in these days when news spreads around the world in mere seconds.  Everything moves so fast.  Change is the new norm. In this swirl of immediacy, books offer us a sense of stability and control.  They have been a part of our lives forever.

Reading a book that’s been read by another, a book that’s slightly worn from many fingers turning its pages, gives us a connection with the past. Another person read that book, loved (or disliked) that book, before us.

Both new and old books provide a sensory experience.  Old books smell sweet, and new ones have a pleasant chemical scent.  It has to do with the chemicals used in their manufacturing as well as the degradation of those chemicals over time.

Maybe physical paper books are headed for extinction.  I hope not, at least not while I’m still around. The comfort they give me is priceless and precious.