My love for books is as old as I am. I've tried to remember learning to read. It must have happened around the usual age. I remember my father reading to me, but he loved to do that even after I could manage perfectly fine on my own. So that's no indication.
What I do remember are my bookshelves. I had three in my bedroom. I would spend hours arranging and rearranging based on title, author, subject, my love for each story. I had a notebook with the title of each book written carefully but in no discernible order. I thought I'd have a library and loan the books out to my siblings, and it was important to keep track of any books that were borrowed. There were hundreds of them, too many to remember.
I still have a few. Worn paperbacks that still smell like my town's used bookstore. They are all I have left of that place. The store closed a few years ago and my last visit was too short and I cried more than I expected. A last vestige of my childhood. My final hold on a life that had been closed off to me.
Now I just have the books and their smell. You'd think it would have faded. My parents both smoked like chimneys and everything reeked of stale cigarettes. But I can still bury my nose in them and be transported immediately back to that bookstore.
This is why books matter, why they mean so much to me. I understand what a book can hold. It can be an entire childhood, barely held together by scraps of covers. It can be a connection to a lost loved one. Their handwritten notes scribbled next to a recipe, turning an average stew into a much-needed comfort and reminder of love. Their dedication written neatly on the first page when they gifted the book for a birthday or holiday. A key to a locked memory or a lost day.
Books are memories turned real and solid. I've heard it said that books get bigger each time you read them because you leave bits of yourself behind. I believe that, in a way. Books hold flowers from vacations we want to remember forever. They hold love notes and receipts. Our makeshift bookmarks become tickets to the past we didn't realize we'd forgotten.
I have a story I'll tell later about what sparked my interest in book restoration. It is important, but never could have been possible without a lifetime of leaving bits of myself in books. I say this because you cannot dedicate your life to repairing books without understanding what they mean, what importance they hold. What memories you are saving.