The Scent of Old Literature

Jedediah Bila

By Jedediah Bila, Author and Political Commentator

I walked into an old bookstore in Midtown Manhattan on my lunch break this afternoon.  The moment my feet hit the weathered carpeting, I took a deep breath and felt years of history nourish me.  The scent of tired pages filled with love, loss, and longing took hold of me quickly, and I welcomed the voyage.  I ran my fingers gently over the weary covers, whose imperfections housed an honesty that made us instant friends.  I sat on a small stool in the corner, grabbed a random book from the shelf, and began reading.  As I turned the first few pages, I could effortlessly see the man who had written those words, his inkwell and feather pen the inspiration for the website I now call my own.  I could hear him humming Chopin like he said he often did, smell the pot roast cooking in his kitchen, see him toss another log on the fire as he ventured inside himself and continued his journey…our journey.

I gazed up at the rows of books and felt sad for America’s youth.  Sure, they have high-tech laptops.  But would they ever know the intimacy of writing or reading that first handwritten love letter that brought you to life in ways an email never could?  They have iPods that can store thousands upon thousands of songs, but would they know the music that only an old record player can bring to life?  There’s just something about that sound that’s different.  And now they have the Kindle.  They can read the best and brightest from the literary world without ever having to open a book.  But do they know that scent…the scent of old literature…and what it can do for the soul?

Don’t get me wrong, I understand the progress that technology has brought us.  In fact, I have a netbook, a BlackBerry, and an iPod.  I know that in the fast-paced world we live in, you sometimes have to jump on board so you don’t get left behind.  I couldn’t bring you my words right here and now otherwise.  But I also know the difference.  I know that no iPod or Kindle will ever touch the heart in quite the same way as that little old bookstore I entered today.

I was lucky enough to be raised in a house where history’s gems always found a home.  It gave me an infinite appreciation for all that is authentic in this life…for those who say what they mean and mean what they say, for honest conversations, for simplicity and substance over ornamentation and fancy displays.  That includes my politics.  I can’t help but fear that because our youth may never experience that old world richness, they also may not possess the ability to quickly uncover an illusion and see it for what it really is.  We all know where that can lead us.

I think that one of the greatest gifts parents can give their children is to bring them back every now and then to a time when life was a little simpler on the outside, when people spoke from the heart and there was no TV to flash their pretty pictures or spiffy wardrobes and hence distract others from the crux of what they were saying.  Read your children an antique book and let them touch the pages.  Let them hear the music from a busted up old record player in your attic.  Help them discover the parts of themselves that will compel them to cherish genuineness and to elect leaders who will manifest it.  Maybe they’ll even become those leaders one day.

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