In the Quiet and Still Air of Delightful Studies

One of my favourite things is to be out somewhere and happen upon a secondhand book sale. Not a sale at a secondhand store but one of those mammoth book sales that organizations throw as a fundraiser.

When I was at McGill there was one every fall, aptly named the McGill Book Fair. It's still happening and it is organized by the McGill Women's Alumnae Association. The money raised goes into a scholarship fund. I don't know how long they've been doing it but it's raised over $1 million through the years. I worked at it one year. It was one of those little odd jobs that I somehow found myself doing (there were a number of those). I spent the better part of a day ringing up totals and taking people's money and being entertained buy delightful older women. Once I finished my shift I became one of the people shelling out my hard-earned cash for books.

One of the things I loved about going to that sale was the location. Like most secondhand mammoth book sales it was crowded and dusty and people are either infuriatingly slow or annoyingly pushy but it had the best location for a book sale. Every year it's held in Redpath Hall. Redpath Hall was, once upon a time, one of McGill's reading rooms. It's now used for concert performances and special events. It contains a pipe organ and stained glass windows.

It's just the type of grand room where you wish you could find a comfortable green leather armchair so that you could sit down and read whatever book you happen to have in your hand. (Though if that happened you'd probably also wish the windows opened.) Sadly, most people don't even notice the grandness of the room when they are there. They are looking down at the rows and rows of books. They are avoiding getting squished by the crowd. They don't really have, or take, a moment to stop and look around at this spectacular room.

Being in that room, when it was quiet and still before all the people filled in... it's one of my favourite McGill memories. Even beats standing in the middle of the Faculty Club ballroom (another impressive room) in the dark one evening. It made me think of the famous John Milton quote that graces one of the exterior library walls -- "In the Quiet and Still Air of Delightful Studies."

This past weekend we were out running errands and found a book sale at the Nepean Sportsplex -- a building not quite as architecturally grand as Redpath Hall but impressive in its own way. It houses rinks and pools and lots of spaces for things like book sales. As I was going through the piles of books I couldn't help but smile and be reminded of the time that I worked at such a sale. Then, just for a moment, I was back at McGill. This time of year would have found me cramming for exams -- shifting back and forth between home, library and coffee shop trying to shove as much knowledge into my brain and hoping it stayed there at least until after exams. If it was a really nice day I might find myself studying on the Arts steps (yep, even sat there in the winter...sometimes) or the Stairs to Nowhere.

This time of year I want to sit in a dusty, airless room and study -ologies and -isms. I want to surround myself with the quiet and still air of delightful studies.