While recently at Half Price books I thumbed through Nick Hornby’s The Complete Polysyllabic Spree. I didn’t buy the book (Sorry, Nick. But…I’m assuming you don’t make anything from a used book purchase anyway.) instead mentally filing it away as a future library check out. I like reading essays written by people who love to read. They make me feel giddy, inspired, and awfully stupid all at once. Except I am dismayed at how they all seem to focus on owning books: Books shelved in floor to ceiling, wall to wall shelves. Books stacked on tables. Book stores selling books. People buying books and the quick introduction to that person’s character based on another seeing the person’s book collection. I feel my own small case needs a giant asterisk — in tarnished copper — inexpertly nailed to the wall. It would hang in perpetuity just above the case’s upper right corner — please let’s not dismiss all our grade school grammar — ready to offer further explanation to any visitor.
I, too, once aspired to be a voracious collector of books. I never failed to beg my parents to buy me more books. It didn’t matter to me if they were paperback or hardcover — I wanted them all. Christmas wishes, day dream fantasies, and labored sketches were dedicated to the perfect bookcases. Until that day my too small collection was shelved into hall closets. And then my aching arms refused to lift another moving box of rectangular weights; my dwindling bank account refused to stretch for one more spontaneous purchase of inedible tree pulp. While required reading and classics still made up every purchase, I stopped buying books.
I didn’t ever stop reading. The library became just as familiar as Barnes & Noble had once been. More familiar. It opened up books I’d never have discovered buying the meal instead of nibbling a sample. It turned into an all you can eat portion, but no visitor will see these years represented on my shelves. Oh sure there were exceptions — never say never and all that — but those book purchases were very much the exception — the analyzed, debated, budgeted for exception.
Then my little collection was culled. A determination to eat all the cat food led to the dog’s taste for the literary word. It started as nibbling the corner of Calvin & Hobbes (he’d heard it was about tuna fish sandwiches) and tasting the lawless freedom of Jesse James’ wild west. Attempting to manage the mischief I set up obstacle courses in front of the books placed on a flimsy metal shelf.
The carnage was unbearable. Chairs were flung across the room, torn pages, flyleafs, hardback bindings covered the floor from living room to bedroom. I couldn’t even take count, it was too painful – he’d gone after the favorites, the rare purchases from recent years. Lovingly I shelved every remaining book inside a new bookcase with glass doors.
Okay. Maybe the asterisk should have an asterisk. Smaller by more than half and covered in torn pieces of mismatched scrap paper it is hooked just above the original asterisk. It directs visitors to the front door. Directly in front is a secretary desk re-purposed to hold muffin tins, cutting boards, skillets, and cookbooks. It’s not a larger but more recent collection than my reading books. Visitors never see it behind the desk’s hinged cover.
If the internet is the big city then my collection is a quiet village dedicated to preserving the dark night sky — I read a library book about the topic. Without my book about ice cream (purchased a year ago) I’d never have learned that the eggless bases I’ve made are known as a Philadelphia style ice cream. They’re kind of perfect for summer. When I saw a recipe online for an ice cream swirled with cinnamon sugar I ignored the big city custard and turned the pages of my very own book. Then I topped the bowl of ice cream with cold brew coffee.
Coffee and books are such good companions.
Okay so I think most everything is a fast friend to books. Even if they’re only visiting for 3-6 weeks.