#3 Be a Literary Pilgrim
Shelves stretch to the ceiling. Books spill over onto the floor. And around every corner, pausing on stairs, lounging in puffy arm chairs, sitting at long wooden tables, curling up in a corner, even waiting in lines to the bathroom, people read. This is City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco. Here a book lover can get lost, but a good kind of lost. She can be a pilgrim, on a journey to a sacred place.
As a child growing up in rural Virginia, and long before knowing of City Lights, my mother took me often to Dick’s Barn, once full of dairy cows, but when I knew it, a magical storehouse, overflowing with antiques, knick-knacks and used books. There I spent many a Saturday, rummaging in old crates, cozied up with tales set far away from the Virginia mountains, imagining other lives than one of a country girl.
At home, the books took places of honor with other treasures in a long built-in cabinet in our hallway decorated with brass sconces, red Chinese wallpaper, and a black and white diamond patterned floor. I spent many hours on the cool floor, pouring over fairy tales, poetry, art and history books, Shakespeare, and works by Russian or American writers. I can still see them, arranged alphabetically or in categories, spines facing out, little enchantresses.
Over the years, there were many trips to Dick’s Barn and many more beautiful books added to our collection. For the years of my own childhood and later for my children’s, these touchstones provided enrichment, solace, and inspiration. Just recently I came across my favorite copy of English Fairy Tales, illustrated by Arthur Rackham, its cover a rich heavy forest green. Inside the front cover bordered with green butterflies lies a child’s inscription, “Summer’s Book,” written in permanent red ink.
Pilgrimages to used bookstores or famous ones such as City Light’s in San Francisco or Politics and Prose in Washington D.C. are still part of what I love. I can still wander at will. In the pages of poetry or prose and from the imaginings of others, I find myself.