Why physical books still matter to me – an Ankhie Anecdote

A little private revelation here – to all of the outside world Ankhie appears (mostly) unflappable. It is a useful persona to cultivate  in a business filled with highly intelligent and creative individuals. If you like your friends and fellows smart and funny you’re  likely to get some drama along with it. So Ankhie stays calm – a steady hand, face to the wind, yada yada yada…

But sometimes, Ankhie cracks. It happened this weekend, visiting some loved ones in the wilds of Western New England. A full-blown anxiety attack. Only Mr. Ankhie and Ankhie Jr. were aware of what was going on – and they knew just the fix – a visit to the local used bookstore. Somehow, there amid thousands and thousands of dusty tomes I could breathe again. Reaching for an oversized art book on a high shelf relieved the tightness in my chest and back. Sitting between the stacks on a cold concrete floor slowed my heartbeat down to a human rhythm. The faded script and marginalia in a first edition Neruda (although beyond my means) made me feel that all was, or at least could be, well and right with the world.

So the point of the story is this. As much as I love my e-reading device, a trip to the online bookstore would not have fixed me. No sir. Not one bit. It was the physical presence of books – the collective weight of words and history, the dust and the must and pencil marks and dog ears and yellowed bookplates and dedications and forgotten bookmarks and dry-cleaner receipts and coffee stains that brought me back out of unreasoned panic. It was what these books, these actual books meant to those who had owned them and read them – the ways in which all these words had changed and influenced the lives of their readers – the stories behind all those stories. A book is more than just words or information. It is a tangible link to a time and a place and a mindset. It is the rudder on which I steady my hand, when I steer into the wind.

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