"Through the Fray: A Tale of the Luddite Riots," by G.A. Henty, was listed under "juvenile." The children's room is just off the library rotunda on the second floor, and it took my breath away. Dark wood beams painted with Arts & Crafts designs. Thick carpets, high windows, exquisite chandeliers. And on every wall, an Albert Herter mural depicting California history, originally installed in 1928. My book was not on the shelf, but the librarian knew exactly where it was. "On reserve," she said. "It's an old one."
She brought out a museum box and opened the lid. The book was wrapped in tissue paper -- a boy's historical adventure, the cover made clear. It was published in 1886; the pages were dark and brittle and the binding frayed. I had history in my hands. It smelled good, like the books at my grandmother's house in Missouri, books long gone. Inside the front cover was a plate that read "Property of L.T. Szymanski, Engine Co. No 59, LAFD." It had belonged, I imagined, to a firefighter so young he was still reading chapter books. I felt attached to him, holding his book all these years later. It was too fragile to actually read, but that didn't seem to matter.