Tuesday, June 03, 2008

The Romance Of Books

Colleen at Chasing Ray did a post a few days ago that referred to someone's personal library. Just now I finished reading The Book Collection That Devoured My Life in The Wall Street Journal.

Both pieces reminded me that I'm not that into books as material objects anymore.

Oh, the house is full of them. We probably have thousands because we have two collectors living here. (Don't look at me.) We have built-in bookcases along each side of the fireplace, and we have close to seventy-five feet of shelving for books in the office, not counting the bookcase filled double deep with Star Trek novels. My "To Read" area includes two shelves and a basket.

I live with a lot of books when you consider that I'm an excellent library patron.

As I've probably said here before, owning books is a lot of work. They get dusty. They get mildewy. They turn brown. Does no one else notice any of that? Seriously, I'm not that clean a person. I can't believe it doesn't bother other people.

Or perhaps they're much better housekeepers than I am.

We have elderly relatives who are always giving me books they've been hoarding, sometimes for half a century. The ones I keep have to be aired outdoors for weeks before they can be put on a shelf. We're going to start bagging and freezing them in hot, humid weather to try to get rid of the nasty things they've acquired over the years.

Many times we have to make the tough decision to toss books that should have been sent on to that library in the sky back in, maybe, 1977. Or even 1955. Outdated technical books may have value to someone, but not anyone I know.

When I was a redneck child growing up in my scenic little hilltown, I dreamed of having a library. I can remember the satisfaction I felt starting it with a few Nancy Drews and maybe a Trixie Beldon. Every spring my sisters and I would spend a few days working on a treehouse out in the woods. It was going to have multiple stories, one of which was going to be a library.

Once I owned a great many books, they lost their fascination as objects. Familiarity breeds contempt, I guess. I can still recognize that they're lovely, but quite honestly I don't reread that often. I have three John Cheevers that I don't think I've cracked in twenty-five years. Come on. Hundreds of thousands of books are published each year. Am I ever going to have time to reread my entire set of The Forsythe Saga?

Over time, I've come to realize that I'm a process person. I'm not interested in owning books, anymore. I just want to read them.

1 comment:

Tricia said...

A while back, Julius Lester wrote a post entitled How Many Books Can One Read?

In part it says:
"Until I read that paragraph I had never thought about how many books I would read over the course of my life. But only three thousand? I would have thought many more than that. I read a book a week, sometimes a little more, which means I read between 52 and 60 books a year. And she is right: “That’s not enough!”

The reason these words depressed me is because, like many of you, I am a compulsive book buyer and I have many more than three thousand books I’ve bought and haven’t read. Now I must face the sad fact that there isn't enough time to read them all."

I've been thinking about this as well. With the limited time I have, what do I really want to read? As I think about this, I find myself donating boxes of books I know I will not revisit, in the hopes that someone else will have the chance to enjoy them.