Yesterday I unexpectedly smelled a book. I was holding up a book for Eleanor to take a photo of (for school), and to be a little silly I held it right under my nose so my nose might be in the picture, too. It wasn’t in the picture. But I smelled cheap paperback for the first time in a very, very long time. It smelled divine. It instantly took me a million places: elementary school; the Scholastic book fair; days spent loitering on a couch reading dusty, worn out paperbacks from the library; packing and unpacking boxes of books for various moves; dropping books into the bath; dropping books onto my face when I fall asleep reading. I have so many memories of books, because I always like a book close by. It’s comforting to have a book available, and the unspoiled potential of a new book is right up there with life’s top pleasures. I haven’t been able to read as much as I’d like during the last year or so; deep dread and anxiety have wrecked my focus and made it really hard to read in a sustained manner. But I’ve always kept books at hand, just in case.
It hit me hard yesterday how much I actually do miss holding a book and touching it (two different things). Who among us hasn’t gently trailed a few fingers across the page to feel the tooth of the paper? To see if the ink feels raised or not? How exciting to feel those little tactile clues! Who here hasn’t stroked a cover to feel the matte of the paper, or the tug of a sueded cover against your fingertips? I, for one, am happily guilty. The fact that a book can also delight, confuzzle, excite, enlight, enrage, and lead us on adventures is an additional gift. How many non-harmful things can we experience on an emotional, mental, and tactile level, like we can a book?
This post isn’t just about books, though. It’s about all the things in our (specifically my) life that are better for being fully experienced. Art ranks highly here for me. Food as well. I know you’re not supposed to touch art in museums and such (most of the time), but being able to touch impasto paint or the brittle of a varnished oil painting is beautiful and rare each time. Taking a bite of flaky pastry or seeing the sagging ephemeral dome of a perfectly poached egg the moment before devouring is single moment of luxury.
I don’t know about you, but I ruin nearly every manicure I get, because I cannot resist touching the varnish before it’s dry. It looks so tempting. And once it’s fully dry it’s so delightfully slick, like polished glass. If you have never painted your nails and engaged in the secret joy of sliding your fingers over your nails, you are missing out on tiny, achievable euphoria.
I have flowers on my desk that are well and truly dead, but I can’t bring myself to throw them away because even in decay they still smell like roses and catching that scent at random is a balm. We have a tomato plant on our back deck, and I love moving it to water it each day. The sharp, aggressive scent of the plant takes no prisoners and slays me anew each time. I love it.
Have you ever felt the soft teaspoons of air that a small animal puffs out with each breath? Or, for that matter, a small child? Especially while asleep? A very dainty magic.
Being aimlessly adrift for the last year while also highly frantic has had a lot of profound effects on all our lives, some absolutely devastating. A micro loss that I didn’t notice I had lost until I had it again were these near-nugatory tactile sensations. They were so close to unimportant as to be vital, as it turns out. How do you rate a trifling touch, especially if you don’t even notice when it vanishes? I suppose one measure is by the volume of delight when you notice it anew. Go out and feel something and remember.