To Hell With Nightclubs – Give Me a Book!

Whenever I go to people's houses I make a beeline for their bookshelves. Apart from telling me their real interests (unless they are doing the 'bookshelves-as-decorating-accessory' thing with colour co-ordinated volumes), I am constantly on the lookout for new authors, compelling biographies, fascinating facts and I hope that if I ask nicely they will lend me a copy or two, or ten.

On trips back to the UK the first place I head for is a bookshop. In charity shops (of which there is a real dearth in Italy) I go straight to the shelves at the back of the shop with their tatty treasures, waiting patiently until those already there move on, because selfishly, I prefer browsing freely with no-one breathing down my neck. My heart races with excitement as I scour the piles of books, hopeful for a gem that will keep me spelbound for a few hours.

Then there is the library – don't even get me started on the joys of the library! Yes, this former girl-about-town who used to party until dawn readily admits going weak at the knees at the sight of all those books waiting for me in one place. The fact they are handily divided into categories is even better. Oh yes, happiness is a sparsely populated,well-lit  local library on a winter's afternoon…

Books have their own smell too. New books give off that freshly printed, come-hither perfume, whereas old book shops have a musty and wonderful scent that is unmistakeable and evocative. Maybe someone should capture and bottle Eau de libre, except you might start getting followed by earnest middle aged men in raincoats with Tesco bags!

I once read about collectors of rare books. These tomes can exchange hands for many thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of pounds. There are special exhibitions, shows and trade fairs where people source new additions to their collections and exchange gossip. All fascinating stuff, but for me the most extraordinary thing about this group of people was to learn that they don't read the books. Sometimes they barely even open them, except to check no-one has ripped pages out or faked the age. For them the thrill is in the chase and the discovery. It's like those fine wine collectors who never open the bottles.

To me it is incomprehensible that you would own a beautiful book and never read its contents. Because the real value is in what you discover between the covers. The secret of a good book is what is can do for your mind and your soul,  not how much it fetches at auction or how rare it is.

So when it comes to three wishes or desert island possessions, birthday presents or Christmas gifts I am a pushover. Books, books and more books please. Because they can take you anywhere and teach you everything. What more could you want?



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