Argosy Books -- The Proper Way to Read an Old Book
Last week, on another adventure with our friends Leah and Hailie, I became acquainted with Argosy Books, the oldest independently owned bookstore in New York.
It was love at first sight.
Walking through the aisles of books, I could hear them whisper. Some boasted of the places they’d been, while other’s reminisced about the people who’d read them.
I love old books.
When one caught my eye, I couldn’t help but reach out to grab it, letting the worn leather melt against my fingers. Gold embossed lettering swirled across the cover and sharp black letters cut into thick crumbly pages.
I love to read old books — but there’s a trick to it, you see.
The secret to reading an old book is to not. Now, what I mean by that, is to not in the same manner you would go about reading a new book. Of course, they all have settings, plots, and characters just as new books do, but it’s more than that.
It’s the extra sorries they carry.
It’s the coffee stains, the bubble-bath-warps, the penciled-in lines under certain sentences, circled words, and the “Happy Birthday, my Love,” inscribed inside the front cover.
You don’t just read the written story the book carries inside it, you have to read the additional sorries that it carries along with it.
It’s a “six-for-the-price-of-one” deal. You meet characters that lie flat across the pages, but you’re also meeting the people who loved the book prior to you. Where you've laughed, they've laughed, and where you've cried, they've cried. You can tell by the dime-shaped smudges left from tears shed 20 years ago.
Someone else has traveled through those yellowed pages too, someone else has cherished the same characters, been surprised through the same plot twists, and fallen in and out of love where you too have fallen — and the book knows that.
You’re reading a book on the subway on your way to work, but someone else read it in the park. You can tell by the grass stains on page 72. You can further deduce that they must have been in the park quite a long time, because there’s an identical green mark on page 203.
When you scurry up a ladder in an old bookstore to find a textbook for a report on “fiscal policy,” you don’t just get economics. In the shower of orange and red flitting down the bookcase, you find empathy from from the book’s previous owner, who determined that the only real use for it was pressing leaves.
I could have spent the entire day sifting thorough the shelves of the teeming 1925 bookstore. I could have curled up with the Irving Penn photo-book and just sat in the corner dreaming of his subjects — of full taffeta skirts in 1950’s Paris and the curious colors and textures incorporated in his still life photos. I'd have been happy to stay and wonder of stories behind his genius photographs; the sets, the planning, the remarkable accidents that led to perfection.
The day was young, however, and there were still many other places to explore. We said goodbye to the little shop, and I left with my daily dose of whimsy satisfied, and three new friends tucked under my arm.
It was the start to another beautiful day in New York City.
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