I walk into one of the used bookstores in my neighborhood knowing the feeling I’ll have on the other side of the door. A good one. Peaceful. Every time I enter this place is like entering a friend’s living room. Comfortable and welcoming. Today is no different. A sunny day, all inflamed with that somewhat misleading yet overwhelming smell of early spring. The floor is soft and light brown, it feels like it’s made of soft caramel, one could say on purpose so that the noise made by visitors’ steps will be soaked up in its softness and thus not wake up the rows of sleeping books. There is old French music playing in the background, gentle forgotten voices. Barely audible, and that’s loud enough.

Steve, the owner, smiles. Always. He did so the first time I entered his newly opened store last year and asked about “Alice in Wonderland”. He’ll get it for me, he offered kindly, and he did, a few days later. A 1923 edition, no less, with beautiful drawings with a red so vivid it’s hard to believe it’s been there for almost a century. The book smelled very much like my grandpa’s books, old and inviting at the same time, and the first sniff whipped some good memories of the house I grew up in and the grapevine-sheltered green bench that was for years my favourite reading place. Somehow sharing that did not feel out of place.
Today is the store anniversary. It’s been a year, Steve says. His friend Casey from down the street stopped by for a congratulatory visit. He’s a jolly fellow and jolly is good. It’s good when people laugh, or at least smile, Casey says. Life may be tough at times, but then again you have nothing to lose if you smile. He’s right, I tell him so, and then I think of my crazed morning and how I forgot to smile. I’ll try to remember next time. We talk about kids and parents, people we know, seemingly ordinary people doing remarkable things, books we read, we share dreams, each of us candidly admitting fears and limitations. There is acceptance and encouragement. And laughs. No pretentiousness. It’s past noon now. A couple of people enter the store. They seem to like it. Steve offers to bring a chair to a guy whose been there for a while now reading while we chatted. The guy smiles, surprised. It feels good when you’re not rushed out of a place but invited to stay a while. And read, no less.

The sun is shining, the air is yellow and warm. I leave the store with its rows of sleeping books and caramel floors behind and wish Steve the best. I might leave the neighborhood at some point, who knows, but I hope his bookstore stays. It should. Because it’s a good place to be. One of the best, in fact.