Thursday, May 16, 2013

Reading is Fundamental. A Lot of Books are Not.

One shelf of the two bookshelves in my home office. Lewis Carroll. Shakespeare.

Miscellaneous. The trips of April and May provided me with time to read. I took the cross-stitch along but, when the car died, I didn't feel like putting the effort into counting stitches. Getting lost in a good book was highly preferable. That book was consumed in 14 hours. I picked up a second one in anticipation of the May trip. It's a collection of essays and doesn't promote straight reading. Read 3 or 4 at a time. Set the book aside. Read another 2 to 3 at another time.

The television shows about hoarding got me thinking about my books, as did the current read. It's a book entitled "Readings" and it's by Pulitizer Prize winner, Michael Dirda. For some reason, the photo I have of the book cover is corrupted so you'll need to go to the link to see it. The author is a book critic and a voracious reader. I've found some of his essays on books and reading to be obtuse, but most of them are spot on, exceptionally humorous and full of dropped names, including authors, critics and, most importantly, books.

He defines bibliophiliac. I consider myself one, but I've got nothing on him. I have two stacks in the bedroom, two stacks in the cats' room, three bookshelves upstairs, two bookshelves and numerous boxes in the basement. He describes boxes upon boxes of books, of sneaking off to second hand bookstores, of then having to sneak the purchases made at said stores past a long-suffering wife. I read, deliciously, the essay wherein she culled their boys' bedrooms of books and how he was horrified at what she was going to get rid of, even when "getting rid of" meant taking to a second hand bookstore where they would be sold to new homes. I watched with no small horror as people in hazmat suits shoveled stuff from the homes of hoarders. This is no less a hoarding situation, only it involves books, and, I would wager, we wouldn't blink an eye at the dozens of boxes in a basement or attic.  They are only books.

He talks about trying to get as many different editions of one book as he possibly can. I just read an essay on erotic literature and he mentioned his collection of Lolita books, how each cover from each reissue of the book reflects the sensibilities of the times and what the publisher felt needed to be emphasized. He has 7 different copies of the book, each with a different cover. After reading that, I went into my office and there was the shelf pictured above.

I know what he's talking about. I wanted a copy of everything Lewis Carroll ever wrote because I did my senior thesis on "Nonsense Words in Lewis Carroll's Through the Lookingglass and What Alice Found There". I love Shakespeare so collecting books about him was sort of to be expected. Along life's journey, I've found other things that pique my interest and that I must have. Terry Pratchett and his Discworld series is my current object. I have, I think, all of Agatha Christie's mysteries.

Writings have been burned since the Chinese figured out how to develop an alphabet and assemble that into words on paper. This allowed ideas, which could be against the grand view of the current rulers, to be widely disseminated. Martin Luther started a whole new religion by writing some ideas on parchment and nailing them to a church door. Control ideas and you can control people. Ban books and the ideas contained therein never see the light of day. They don't assault your carefully ordered frame of existence. Ray Bradbury's Farenheit 451 was written during the McCarthy era when ideas which didn't conform to a scared government were deemed "un-American".

I think, at some deep metaphysical level, those of us who love books have the idea that we could lose them and it's up to us to save them for future generations. It becomes important to keep these, to pass them along, to be subversives because who knows when Douglas Adams will be banned. We can't let that happen because we are aware of what a vast amount of knowledge was lost when the library of Alexandria in Egypt was burned. It's not called the Dark Ages because there was no electricity.

If we are real biblioholics, we wander the bookstores, both new and used, for the quintessential find for whatever genre we enjoy. Some people collect first editions. Some collect graphic (essentially comic book, for those who don't know the term) novelizations of their favorite stories. Some collect specific authors. Some collect specific topics. But we all collect to have, to keep, to preserve. And that's where I'm wrestling with another side of myself.

Divestiture. I mentioned, a few posts back, that I'm going to pare my cookbooks down to a manageable few. AWK! What was I thinking!? That is going to mean getting rid of some. I have them stacked on top of the bookshelf and I'll never use those ones up there because they aren't on the shelf and I never see them. I barely use the ones I have because there's the storage unit in front of the bookshelf but once that's gone, it's time to purge. I tell myself that. I tell myself it will be "easy" to review what I have and just get rid of the ones that don't interest me anymore. Get. Rid. Of. Books. I have books stuffed sideways on other shelves too. I've long wanted them to be upright. And those two stacks in my bedroom? I want to read those books and get rid of those stacks. I want all my Terry Pratchett books to be in one location. They are currently scattered between three different shelf units. All of this means some have to go.

That is the hard part. Books are friends. I'm introverted and I've found a lot of solace in books. Reading Rainbow's hook was that books can take you anywhere. I've been reading since kindergarten. I would give my eye teeth to get a full set of the primers I learned to read from. The Red Book, The Blue Book. I remember the thickness of The White Book, which was really a pale lemon color, that we got in second grade. I remember reading ahead and being annoyed with the reading group to which I was assigned. Some of the farm kids considered reading to be a mere annoyance. Why read when you could get your information from TV? "Did you see Mr. Ed last night? That was so funny!"

Surrounding myself with books is in my blood. I could never not have a home library. I have long wished for the funds to add to my house. I'd add a second story which would include a library where all my books could be filed, just like a public library; non-fiction here, fiction here, cooking there, science fiction there, cat books here in the middle. That would be nirvana.

The Chicago Tribune's Book Fair is June 8 & 9 this year. It's already calling to me. "Come. Come. You came last year and left with a few things. Come again. There will be more to see." I probably will go. I'll develop a list of books I'm looking for, books to add to the stack in the bedroom.

So, I'm wrestling with this. I don't NEED more books. I will always have books on my birthday and Christmas lists but I don't NEED to possess them long term. When was the last time I opened The French Connection, an adequately good thriller? I could get rid of it. I tell myself that, repeatedly. Let's see, over the summer, how many books actually make it into a give away box.

Beverage:  Darjeeling tea


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