When I was younger, there was a bookstore full of used books. It felt magical. Don’t get me wrong, all bookstores are magical—but this one was special. It was up in the high second floor of a building where the first floor was tall—and the second extended into the attic. It was more than twice as high a space as one would think a bookstore needed.
The owner must have been a carpenter by avocation. He built bookshelves in all sizes and shapes—tall bookshelves. He built in stairs and ladders—but also narrow walkways and bridges. He built well. No matter how odd the structure looked, it always felt solid. It never creaked or groaned or swayed—but I have a fear of heights, and many of the books I wanted were up high. I couldn’t reach them without climbing, without braving the ledges, without leaning out over an edge, stretching my body out above empty space, without a safety net.
Oh, I suppose I could have asked for assistance, but even if I’d gone into the store knowing what titles I wanted to buy, that felt wrong. It would have been cheating—not cheating someone else, but cheating myself. The store was like stepping into one of my books, stepping into adventure. I was exploring a strange and delightful land, never knowing what might lie around the corner, or what might hide in some nook that was totally inaccessible to the people who stayed safely below.
I spent hours there, sitting with my legs dangling, looking at book after book, slowly accumulating a pile that rose tall, a stack that—like the shelving—promised adventure.
I went back, just a few years ago, and found the remaining ledges had been made wide and given handrails; the quirky, twisty stairways had been replaced by straighter, safer ones. I no longer had to lean out into space to reach the science fiction and fantasy at the beginning and end of the alphabet. It was still a tall, unique, and quirky bookstore, but it had been tamed. It had, no doubt, met a safety inspector or insurance adjuster—and been adjusted.
I bought a book or two, but it wasn’t the same. There are used bookstores everywhere, after all, and an endless selection of books on Amazon. I didn’t have to travel back to the city of my birth and brave the traffic there to just to get a book to read. I had yearned for adventure, though my mind was focused on finding new-to-me authors and titles.
I thought the treasure I sought that day lay solely behind bright cover art—but I was wrong. I learned that the true treasure in a story is the experience. It doesn’t matter if the experience is lived first-hand in the flesh or brought to life by the words in a book--if you make the adventure safe, it’s not an adventure at all.
Deirdre Murphy grew up reading all sorts of books, but mostly mythology, mysteries, and speculative fiction. Her love of the far, strange places of the imagination influences her creative work. She has stories and poetry in venues including MZB's Fantasy Magazine, Crossed Genres, With Painted Words, and The Best of FridayFlash Volume One. She is one of the primary creators of Torn World, a shared science fantasy world that includes fiction, poetry, art, and worldbuilding at www.tornworld.net. She has stories in the first Torn World print anthology, Subversion, and Re-Vamp. You can find her musings about life, creativity, and publishing at wyld-dandelyon.livejournal.com.