I ran across an article called “Reading as Meditation” by Adam Byatt. It brought up some beautiful imagery that, as a writer and a reader, inspired me to my core and had me sighing aloud at the grace and truth of the words and of course got me thinking about the temples a writer has and pilgrimages we take.
Adam wrote: “In our world where there are many demands competing for our attention, the need for space and silence is a commodity we must cherish and protect…for a moment, consider how reading is a meditative practice. Reading is one way to engage with space and silence. Reading requires its adherents to find solace and space to commune…Why are libraries always quiet? Reading requires silence. Reading is a search for truth. A library is a temple to the search for truth through sacred texts…Reading is a silent, meditative practice in the search for truth. The form of the sacred text does not matter; whether the vessel is stone, clay, papyrus, vellum, parchment, paper or digital. For a reader, a library or a bookstore is a sacred space, a temple to the written word, fiction and non-fiction, entertainment and information.”
Remember Borders Book stores? Oh, I miss them. You see, my sanctuary, my church from the earliest of ages was a library and a bookstore. In college I would scrape together a few bucks and take the bus or go with friends to Borders. Ours had all these sofas and chairs scattered throughout the store, perfect little reading nooks. Perfect little hiding places of contemplation. I would pay my entrance fee in the form of a cup of coffee that came with refills, I would over sugar and cream it because I wasn’t drinking the straight stuff at that time. And then, I would spend hours looking at books of artist I wasn’t acquainted with; reading short stories by authors whose book covers looked inviting; I would flip through magazines and fantasize about traveling the world and skim the photos in decorating books and dream of having a place of my own. But mostly, I would pull out that thick, almost thousand page Writer’s Market book and jot down notes on how to get my little writing self published. I did a lot of work in that Borders, finding my voice, my ideas of self, and planning my attempts to make my dreams come true.
Bookstores are my sacred space, my Holy Land. And now that I think about it, in the true nature of the weary traveler, I have pilgrimage to bookstores all around the world.
I have stood in homage amid Powell’s Bookstore in Portland. I have sighed in the middle of La Feltrinelli, a bookstore in Florence. I stumbled upon a wonderful world of Zine’s in City Lights Books in San Francisco. I bought what I could afford just so I could say I bought a book in London’s renowned bookstore Waterstone’s Piccadilly. In a small used bookstore in the Philippines I bought a cheap copy of Jane Austen’s Persuasion. And every time I visit my parents and my childhood home, I make a bee line for The Bookman in Orange California. When I was a teenager that used bookstore opened and with it, the opportunity for my sister and I to spend ten dollars on a bag of used books that brought us more delight than we ever thought possible.
I know times are changing and the Kindle has taken over and some people love it and it has made reading so readily available and that’s amazing and wonderful. But it’s not for me. I’ve tried to use it, but there is something about curling up with a book, about touching the pages and about the dust and smell of old books that bring comfort and allow heroes and kings and paupers and landscapes to envelope my imagination.