Monday, 21 May 2012

In which I discover a new sense....

I read an article once by a writer talking about the senses.  Not just the usual five but a whole array of other ways of perceiving that some people argue to be senses in their own right.  You can find a list of them on wikipedia - they include things like thermoception (sensitivity to temperature), proprioception (kinesthetic sense), sense of time and nociception (pain) etc.

The writer I was reading was arguing that for a scene to be truly sensual it should employ not just the five, but the rest.  Heat, movement, pain...  whatever.

I can get behind that.

But that's not what I'm writing about today.  I'm writing about a new sense.  Sensitivity to books.

That's right.  Let's call it biblioception.

I stumbled across a treasure trove today, disguised as a humble charity shop in a town on the edge of Edinburgh.  Alright, I'll share it with you.  Afterall, I have left a dragon guarding the treasure.  It's called the Hearing Dogs and it's on Musselburgh High Street.

[small digression: This treasure trove was discovered by my sister Helen whose ability to seek out and identify quality charity shops is unparalleled.  Being half elf her magical powers are not to be underestimated. Being half book-obsessive they have concentrated themselves in this rather niche field of expertise, with some small flickers of enchantment devoted to sorting embroidery threads into pleasing colour combinations]

Enter the Hearing Dogs and you are in a long, dank corridor lined with higgledy piggledy shelves cluttered with books.  There's a chill in the air and a musty smell that clings to everything. Brush through the double doors and you're in another book lined corridor.  It leads to a book lined chamber.  Books are everywhere. New books, old books, two deep on the shelves and stacked high on tables.  In cardboard boxes littering the floor.  Half of them are in disorder, the Ts jostling with the Js, high fantasy rubbing shoulders with biography.  It's literary chaos.

It's heaven.

A treasure chamber never looked so good.

And it costs £1 for 3 books.  THREE BOOKS.  Okay, that's not unusual in charity shop land.  But in most charity shops you're looking at Mills & Boon and mass market paper backs.  In the specialist bookshops - Oxfam or Amnesty - you might find more variety, but anything half decent will be priced accordingly.  Commercial second hand booksellers who find anything really good will auction or flog them on AB Books or Amazon.

Not here.

Here an egalitarian culture thrives.  That impossible to find Barbara Willard book will cost you 49p.  So will Jackie Cooper.  There are old books and new books, science fiction and romance, literary fiction and mass market paperbacks.  And they are all - all - three for £1.

Be still my beating heart.

So back to biblioception: the sense which allows an organism to detect quality fiction using an as yet undiscovered set of physical receptors.  It's a little known fact that biblioception is the most evocative of all the senses.  Move over smell, there's a new sense in town.  How else to explain the rapid beating of my heart when I discover an early edition paperback copy of the Wizard of Earthsea?

And let's not stop there.  I stumble across a Willard Price and suddenly I'm 10 years old again, getting stuck to hot tarmac because I was insistent on walking barefoot so as not to be caught by trackers due to my pinched together shoe-wearing toes (Safari Adventure).

My hand touches Anne McCaffrey's Dragonsinger and I'm riding the back of a copper dragon and sitting, hunched up in my bunk bed propping my eyelids open with matchsticks.

I see Alan Garner's Moon of Gomrath and I know it already sits on my shelves.  But damn, this one has a different cover, the original cover.  Onto the pile it goes.

Barbara Willard, M.M. Kaye, Eleanor Farjeon... the pile grows higher and higher.  In the end I stagger to the counter with no less than fifteen shabby, beloved paperbacks, count out a fiver in change and leave with a bag full of memories and a happy heart.

Give me that book sugar, baby

So you?

What activates your sense of biblioception?  What gets your heart beating faster, stimulates your memories, makes your eyes prickle?  Which bedraggled, dog-eared paperbacks would have you selling your granny into indentured service to possess?  Which takes you to your happy place?

(I am so wanting to spend a week organising my bookshelves now).

(But I don't have enough bookshelves).

(Someone give me a library, please).

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