TO the true believer, it’s a temple with which no other can compare. A maze of knowledge where eager Theseus’ roam without fear and Ariadne’s thread is willfully forgotten, this modern-day labyrinth is the humble bookstore. And no true Pakistani bibliophile can claim to be one without an acquaintance with Liberty Books.
There is a pleasure, to paraphrase Byron, in roaming pathless shelves stacked with volumes of knowledge. But it isn’t just about the content of books. As any book-lover will tell you, there’s something more tangible. The weight of a finely crafted volume, the feel of it in your hand; the texture of each page and the soft flick as you delve deeper into the labyrinth. Reading a book is an experience; and, perhaps, always has been. Books were once the sole preserves of high priests; to be kept under lock and key, away from the masses. Though there is still some way for us to go before knowledge is freely available to every citizen of Pakistan, bookstores have helped democratise this prized commodity.
There’s a personal relationship as well. I remember walking into the store after every Eid, a little intimidated but very, very excited. Though tastes have changed — this year I spent more time at the politics section than the children’s section I began from — the emotions are the same. The same frustration at not finding the book you were looking for, the satisfaction at spotting it behind a tall pile and the excitement at finally owning it, reading it and adding it your library.
I sincerely hope good bookstores like Liberty continue to flourish for they give us a place where we can take refuge from the monotony of the daily grind and, for a moment, lose ourselves in an ancient maze of knowledge.