Friday, December 12, 2008

In Which I Stream My Consciousness About Books

This is a repost of something I wrote a little over a year ago, about how I love books. It popped up on my Bloglines feed for some reason this evening, and in rereading it I noticed that my feelings are still the same. Love those books. (Haven't kept up with Library Thing, though. Books migrate around my house too much for me to keep track of what I have and haven't entered.)


We joined Library Thing last week, and I have had two enjoyable (yet short) sessions at the computer typing in titles.

I have entered pretty much all the kids' current schoolbooks, my current reads, and the bottom shelves of our three Ikea bookcases. But I have already entered 105 books! I have 18 more shelves on our Ikea bookcases, two long bookshelves filled with picture books, a bookshelf in Mariel's room and the many books that have taken up residence on Triss' bed. (You may not think a bed can hold very many books, but believe me, it can... Or maybe you do understand.)

I know we do not have nearly as many books as some folks we know. That's fine. I have always thought that for a book-lover, I was not really very good at stockpiling books. I have even gotten rid of a lot of books in the last couple of years (as well as purchasing quite a few). But I really didn't think we would approach a thousand books in our house, and it looks like the Ikea bookcases alone may contain at least that many. Golly.

My thoughtful, excellent husband and children gave me Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman for my birthday (thank you, DHM, for recommending it!) and I have been enjoying an essay or two before I go to bed each night. I especially enjoyed the essay, "Never Do That To A Book."

During the next thirty years I came to realize that just as there is more than one way to love a person, so is there more than one way to love a book. The chambermaid belived in courtly love. A book's physical self was sacrosanct to her, its form inseparable from its content; her duty as a lover was Platonic adoration, a noble but doomed attempt to conserve forever the state of perfect chastity in which it had left the bookseller. The Fadiman family believed in carnal love. To us, a book's words were holy, but the paper, cloth, cardboard, glue, thread, and ink that contained them were a mere vessel, and it was no sacrilege to treat them as wantonly as desire and pragmatism dictated. Hard use was a sign not of disrespect, but of intimacy.

I, sadly, am carnal. To me, the words really are the most important. I want the words, and the ideas contained therein, and will own (and devour) the most threadbare copy of a book if that is the only one I can find. And I am also greedy for books, so I will own the less expensive paperback in order to be able to get two books instead of just one. (More books, more ideas!) I figure the really nice copies can be given as Christmas presents somewhere down the line, once some (or all) of us are enamored of the words in the book. I want the words!!

It bothers me a little to be on the carnal side. I do think material possessions have value and I ought to be a good steward. So, I shamefacedly admit (don't be too hard on me, Javamom!) to dogearing books; marking books in pen; placing open books down on the table, chair, floor; purchasing torn copies; bookmarking a book with another book; and even shelving broken books in ziploc bags (and reading those books in pieces). In fact, my beautiful brand-new Ex Libris is sitting on the floor at my feet, open and face downward, awaiting its usefulness.

(My first copy of A Tree Grows In Brooklyn came apart in the middle and about thirty pages fell out after I had read it maybe 15-20 times. I continued to reread it and reread it, simply pausing at the break each time to remind myself of what happened in those pages before going on to the next available page. When I finally purchased a whole copy years later, it was refreshing to be able to actually read through those pages instead of reviewing my memory.)

If I were afraid to damage my books, I don't think I would get as much out of them. There is always a book within reach at our house. An open, face-down book invites me to pick it up and read just one more page. When I see a tired copy of a book I think, now there's a book that has delivered up its ideas!! Imho, the covers, pages and print are the means to the end of communicating ideas.

Yes, I know, we want to preserve these things if we are going to expect them to offer up ideas in the future. Sigh. I admire that position. Really, I do. I hope someday to achieve the balance of respecting the material aspects of the books as much as I desire the words and ideas inside. I am working toward that goal. Perhaps by the time I am eighty. Meantime, I have three up-and-coming bibliophiles whom I am training to care about ideas. How to simultaneously teach them good stewardship? My friend, Lindafay, would say one step at a time...

I tend to agree with her.


Javamom said...

That's okay, Mother A...I can help you fix any that you want to keep around :-).


Mother Auma said...

Oh, thank you! These poor Ambleside books need to make it through all three kids...

Willa said...

Hmm, Mother Auma, your thoughtful post has me pondering. I wouldn't think it is exactly "carnal" to appreciate and commune with the soul of the book. Maybe there is a balance analogous to spirituality somewhere there -- where we treat the physical exterior of the book as a sort of temple for what it contains -- then we could foster respect but not the kind of over-awe that makes the chambermaid dust the book and never think of actually opening it to read it.

My family sounds like yours -- books are cared ABOUT here, but not always cared FOR. Probably the first is more important, but the second is part of the first.

Mother Auma said...

Willa, interesting that you bring up this point. My initial response to the realization that I don't put a high priority on the "person" of the book, so to speak, was to wonder whether this is a bit similar to ancient Gnosticism-- "spiritual is the only good." I do not believe that matter is evil, but I do not put an emphasis on material things either. I don't think I believe material things have no value, but sometimes actions speak louder than words. I sometimes wonder if I am communicating that.

Willa said...

Yes, that is what I was thinking too! Stewardship is important, as you say in your post. There is also the factor of spending family income to replace a loved book that hasn't been used well. Lots to ponder, for me.