I don’t know the first time I entered a bookstore. I can’t even guess. I’m sure it happened plenty; my mother has hundreds and hundreds of books, and they’re not all Book of the Month editions that came in the mail.
But a certain visit to a bookstore comes to mind when I think about it.
I was ten years old; my next door neighbor and best friend was eleven. We were both in fifth grade at the Laboratory School across the street from our apartment building, and our teacher had just that week mentioned Anne Frank. I don’t remember what I learned in class; that part doesn’t stick out in my mind at all.
What sticks out is that trip to the used bookstore. We’d gone downtown to have a look around, all by ourselves; I can’t imagine that happened now, but this was in the 80s, so I guess it was a bit different then. And our single mothers were weary college students, so maybe we got a little more freedom than we should have.
I was the first to pick up the book, and held it up to show Jennifer. This was probably my first experience witnessing a jaw drop–her eyes widened and she gasped a short, sharp breath of excitement. She practically snatched the book from my hands, even though I was already offering it to her, for her to see, you know. Not for her to take and purchase and read and love and all of those good things that come when you find a treasure in the used book store.
She took the book from my hand, and she acted out the most cliched performance I had ever seen in my life until that point, and probably for quite a few years afterwards. She put her grubby paws on either side of the poor little paperback and lifted it up as if she were going to kiss it, then quickly lowered it to her chest in a bear hug. She swayed back and forth a couple of times, treasuring the slim volume.
I might take this time to add that we both idolized our fifth grade teacher; she wasn’t just a teacher, she was a doctor. in retrospect, she was an excellent teacher.
I might also add that the initial volume that I selected was a lovely hardcover version of Anne Frank’s Diary. It was in excellent condition, something that I already well understood; valuing books came to me quite well.
Jennifer announced that she was purchasing this book, and I opened my mouth to point out that I’d found it, but I didn’t have the wherewithal to make the statement aloud, to my older, taller friend. I was a shy, timid child, and a lot of that is still with me today. I couldn’t stand up to my friend that day.
I looked again at the shelves next to us, and found an old, tattered copy of the Diary, the cover nearly falling off, the page ends ruffled and ratty, the corners either dogeared or missing. I gazed longingly at the pristine copy in Jennifer’s hands, and resigned myself to reading this far-beyond-secondhand copy.
She led us to the register, practically skipping in her joy. I was moderately upset; upset with myself for being too afraid to say anything, upset with her for not paying attention to the fact that I had been the one to find the book, upset with our teacher for assigning the book, upset with Anne Frank for writing the damn thing in the first place and causing this whole mess.
It sounds horribly melodramatic, but truth be told, I was a horribly melodramatic child. I was told too early and too often how smart I was, but I was also shown early and often how worthless I was, so I had a lot to make up for with my few words and actions.
That was a bitch move of Jennifer to take my book, though.