When I first noticed an essay about a man’s, as he put it, deacquisition of his collection of books, it was as if I read of selective amputation. Books are just about as vital to my state of existence as water and air.

I love the way they look on my shelves, in their tidy and untidy stacks that sprang into being as the shelves overfilled, and even scattered across random surfaces. Oh? The Romeo and Juliet from the 1800s covers too much of greatgrandmother’s dresser? She certainly doesn’t mind, since she died before I was even born, and neither do I. In fact, I think a well worn book enhances any surface it graces.

I love the way books smell. That new, freshly bent open stiffness is like a walk in new fallen snow, a scent barely detectable drifting up from the reader’s footsteps. Older books broken in but still this side of antique have a distinct, admittedly slightly unpleasant scent. Usually like some maiden aunt’s living room, where the history of her life resides in her daily presence. True antique books don’t really smell pretty in any traditional sense, but it’s an attractive scent nonetheless. One that makes one wonder where it’s been, who has read it, how many owners it’s had as it spent centuries transporting ordinary people to extraordinary places.

And I love the way they feel in my hands. Especially the truly aged volumes. Old, crumbly pages, sometimes seemingly held together merely by the words printed upon them are like crisp autumn leaves, delicate in the here and now, yet sturdy enough to withstand one more reading…or perhaps twenty in careful hands. Certain books can feel like history itself, compressed into sheets of vellum and bound in calfskin that caresses in return the hands that cradle them lovingly. They may carry history within those pages, but when books survive long enough they become history. As do we all.

New, old, pretty, plain, my books make me happy. I don’t really have room for them all and I keep roaming used book sales, looking for found treasure, but there are ways. I read C. S. Lewis’ account of his childhood spent among shelves packed three deep, and decided it didn’t seem to have damaged his progress as a thinking person. So now my shelves hold treasures hidden to the casual observer. When I read, and fell in love with, Jan Morris’ wonderful book A Writer’s House in Wales, I longed for a book stack like hers that reached so high it was a dreaded yet beloved ordeal to get one out of the middle, and perhaps somewhat dangerous to attempt to excavate a book that went in at the beginning. I still haven’t created a stack of my own, but one of these days….

My book collection is eclectic, covering novels, short stories, poetry, science, medicine, nature…and many shades of in between. I devour, I skim, and I graze, for pleasure, writing research, and random bursts of beauty. I won’t be deacquisitioning the mass of it any time soon, or imaginable. I’ll be reading it, learning from it, and cherishing it. I have an ereader and I love it too, but not in the same way. It’s a tool. Physical books are elements of the mind…and heart…and life.

Advertisements