There is a library within the library at my university where I can go to read first editions of old, old books – among other treasures. You cannot browse here because the collection is hidden away. To look at them you must show identification and tell the guardian the name of the book you want. People do this in low, low whispers out of respect for the tomes entombed in the vault below.
The guardian then disappears down a stairway to run her fingers over leather-bound oysters whose pearls are hidden from all but the very few who search them out. While I wait for her return, I wonder about the forgotten books that nobody asks for.
The echo of dignified footsteps precedes the guardian into the room. Our hands meet over the revered gift in a solemn pact of trust and promise. In the large reading room there are four big, sturdy old desks, each with room for four chairs, and a corner with old leather sofas. There is always room here because the library within a library is never busy; this place is like a secret almost too precious to share.
I invariably choose the sofa. The book in my hands arouses my senses. My eyes roam over the cover – I am forever amazed at the work that must have gone into the binding of very old books. There is always a scent. Sometimes it’s leather, sometimes a soft musk; each book is its own perfume.
The library is silent but for the sound of pages turning oh-so-gently and the occasional soft sigh from my few fellow bibliophiles.
I would live here if I could.
The Bookworm by Carl Spitzweg