The ancient paper was brittle and dry, crumbling to dust at the places where my fingertips held its edges. Each page was lighter than I imagined and pulled free of its binding easily, like the last leaves on black autumn branches, waiting for a wisp of wind to send them drifting on. I stacked each sheet on top of the pile I was collecting on the edge of my desk, noticing the rasp each made along the dry cracks of my thumb.
The smell of the aging yellow paper reminds me of the last row of shelves at the very back of Strand Bookstore, where a rickety cart in the middle of the aisle slumps under the weight of heavy art books. I remember each and every visit to this corner of the store, the muted noise of the city beyond the walls, the shuffle of my shoes on the worn wood floor. I always begin my ritual visit by running a naked hand along the spines of the largest books on the shelves, feeling the roughness of age through their binding. The oldest books are the best, and I take my time, feeling each one, trying to catch a glimpse of the journey it has taken to get to this place on the shelves of Strand Bookstore.