I have found that I breathe more easily in a library.

While within my home or out on the street, breathing takes a certain effort, a conscious decision to keep living because something somewhere makes the exertion worth it.

Within the aisles of a library, in the kind of silence that only a million sleeping books can bring, I breathe for real.

It is effortless, as if the library itself breathes and I simply let the air pass through my lungs. My eyes pass over the innumerable titles, and oxygen of the most delicious sort begins to leech through my skin into my blood. I work in a library now, and sometimes I take a break to wander the aisles and revel in this simple clarity. The following occurred during just such an occasion.

Thick, green, and worn with age. Hardcover. The spine-cover was browned and soft.

The spine read simply: “Andersen”, and below that, “Stories.”

The moment was perfect. I reached slowly towards the book, longing to look inside and confirm what I hoped, but cautious that this moment was indeed too perfect to be real.

The cover was as soft as it looked, and completely blank. The pages were browned. From this treasure rose the familiar and infinitely comforting smell of aged pages, waiting to be opened after a long, silent hiatus. And so I opened it. The binding didn’t creak or click, like a newer book would. The tome revealed its secrets with a simple sigh, like an autumn wind through the naked branches of an oak.

The title page had, in its youth, been brightly colored. Now, pale red and yellow finery and elaborately italicized lettering whispered of forgotten mysteries waiting within.

Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairy Tales.

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