by Stephanie Barros
A medium sized brick building sits gracefully at the edge of a field of fresh green grass. There is a long walkway that leads to the front doors, bike racks stand nearby with bikes locked and lined askew. It isn’t grand or awe inspiring until my hands push open the doors and I step inside. I am instantly surrounded by one of the largest comforts I have ever known: books.
The fresh air outside has vanished and been replaced by a unique, heart-warming scent. The one of old, tattered, worn down books impossible to duplicate and capture inside a bottle of air freshener. As I stroll through the aisles, my eyes dart through the novels that linger upon endless shelves, hoping to be picked by eager hands. Lined up against the shelves are thick spines for the daring and patient, and thin spines for those hoping to finish before their third cup of tea. As I pass by the fiction novels organized under authors whose last names begin with ‘B,’ I can’t help but notice where a book of mine would be placed if given the lucky opportunity.
I hear the rusty wheels of a cart full of stories being pushed by a helpful librarian. It is making its way around the different divisions through the otherwise silent air as I stand alone in the middle of an aisle. I take hold of the first book whose spine catches my eye, the text printed along the edge bold and seeking my attention. I tug the book off the shelf and balance the glossy, smooth cover on my left hand. My free hand flips through the worn and thin pages, ones that have obviously been enjoyed dozens of times before me. Each turning page brings new words to my view. I search for anything that intrigues me – a word, a phrase, or maybe a snippet of sharp dialogue. I rummage its contents looking for anything to raise my confidence that taking this particular novel home with me is the proper path to go. I’ll be spending time with it, typically long evenings that drag into the night, the record player spinning its vinyl effortlessly and a candle burning nearby. It will absorb my time and my mind as I give it a decent chance. The least it can do is be a good date.
The routine of spending time in this building while flipping and searching has been done dozens, if not hundreds, of times before, since I was younger. The library has always been a place of refuge and collection for me. It is a place I am most at ease. The very moment I step inside, the creativity and hard work of hundreds of people spills around me entirely. I picture the stressful moments that go into writing each of these novels. Those moments where the ideas seem to come crumbling down, no words seem to form properly on paper, and a small voice in the writer’s head echoes, telling them it isn’t worth it, to just give up and walk away. But most of all, I picture the moments of brilliance behind the minds of those who kept on writing. Those moments where their fingers couldn’t possibly glide across the keys quick enough, where ideas burst into their mind at the most ridiculous of times and they were forced to scribble them down on a scrap piece of paper crumpled in their pocket. Even more, those moments where everything finally came together in the way they dreamed it would. And the triumphs they experienced when they truly begin to see the story they envisioned in its final stages of completion. This new story is finished, printed, and set on a shelf for people like myself to enjoy whenever I please. Books are there on rainy days, on sunny days, when I need something to ease my mind, when I need something to get me thinking, when everything seems to be going wrong and when everything seems to be going right – always. They have always been the ultimate friends, always there.
The hundreds of books around me are filled with characters that I may never grow to know and that may never be real to me. There is not enough time in my life, no matter how many years are given to me, to read the words printed on every one of those pages and get to know the fictional characters that live within them. Nevertheless, they are real to their creators, to the writers who made them come alive. I have felt genuine care and empathy for my fictional companions. I have felt what it is like to become fully absorbed by a character’s experiences, so much so that it becomes physically upsetting to witness them encounter any more terrible events. I have also experienced the adventure it is to get there.
I have witnessed what it means to start with a simple idea and allow it to flourish, allow the characters around the idea to develop. After hours upon hours of pulling a life together from thin air, if the writer doesn’t care, why should the reader? Every new book I pick up I learn something new as a writer. I learn what I like to hear in dialogue, what kind of details stick out to me, what is unnecessary to mention but may be difficult to resist mentioning. But, most of all, I discover what I like to read and what I do not like to read. Whether a book is my vision of good or bad, it teaches me what I would love to both see and avoid in my own writing. Through all of these lessons, perhaps, one day, my name just may fall into those alphabetically organized shelves.
I shut the book in my hands as a satisfied smile tugs at the corners of my lips. I have finally decided on the story that will become my ultimate companion for the next four weeks. I can already taste the warm, sweet, Yorkshire Gold tea I’ll enjoy as I balance the book on my lap this evening. The warm steam will hit my face as I bring my mug close to take a delightful sip, while I prepare to absorb the inspired words that have been thought out and contemplated before being etched onto those pages. The very idea of it makes me want to rush home instantly. It won’t be long before I’m diving into another life so different from my own, eavesdropping on conversations, and going on adventures I would otherwise have found inconceivable.