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Books Can Change Your World

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Look, I’m doing my best to find the right words….ok? Ok?...

posted on 26 Sep 2017

Look, I’m doing my best to find the right words….ok? Ok?...

Like me, you must have had times when you’ve been desperately trying to describe to someone just how fantastic an experience or place is. You cast around trying to find the right mix of adjectives or similes that will magically recreate or conjure-up just how it felt to be there at the critical moment – or as photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson would have it, the decisive moment.

Most of us fail to do whatever it was justice; however good we are with words somehow the essence slips through our fingers. Sometimes our mistake is trying to build too many layers, trying to be too literal or we delude ourselves that the words will create a three-dimensional replica of what we ourselves experienced. I was just recently trying to describe the wonderful feeling of ‘being home’ I always experience when I go into the Weston Library (it used to be called the ‘New Bodleian’) in Oxford, which sits right next to Blackwell’s bookshop. I could see the person I was talking to being very polite but slightly glazing over and thinking ‘what on Earth is that mad old man talking about?’

It’s true also with bookshops I’ve visited. I know the ones that work for me and I know the ones that don’t – but articulating that is often really difficult. Bookshops that seem to have the same ‘recipe’ when it comes to décor, stock, location etc. can turn out to be very different – one has the magic ingredient while the other doesn’t.

But what is that magic thing and how can it be described? Until recently I would have thought that finding a single word that would capture the secret essence of the great bookshop was a pretty impossible task. That is until I came upon the word Vellichor, with a definition accredited to something called The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows:

n. the strange wistfulness of used bookstores, which are somehow infused with the passage of time—filled with thousands of old books you’ll never have time to read, each of which is itself locked in its own era, bound and dated and papered over like an old room the author abandoned years ago, a hidden annex littered with thoughts left just as they were on the day they were captured.

The Reading Addicts website gives us some practical examples of its use:

Example sentences

“The moment the scent of lignin hit her nostrils she was overcome with vellichor. ”

“There’s a bookshop on the corner and just walking past fills me with a sense of vellichor.”

Intriguing isn’t it? A single noun to capture a whole complex sensation that any bookshop frequenter knows and treasurers above almost all else. Rather beautiful in its way.

But does it really work? Are you convinced by the examples Reading Addicts have provided? I’m not. I’m sceptical that the essence of great bookshops can be captured by a single word but I’m pretty sure that it’s not this one. It’s the wrong shape, it makes the wrong sound in your mouth, you sound like a fool using it….No, vellichor, won’t cut it for me. I stick with groping around in my own box of sounds to find the combinations that transport the listener to the right place – even if it means I’m bound to keep failing because when all is said and done it’s the trying that really counts.

 

What do you think? Does vellichor work for you?

 

Terry Potter

September 2017