They say a woman can never be too rich or too thin. Being neither, I take as my motto “A woman can never have too many books.” It doesn’t work for everybody but it certainly seems to be a guiding principle in my life. I offer as proof the small abode in which I dwell. It’s not miniscule, thank heaven, or there wouldn’t be room for me and my four feline companions, although they usually look at me in much the same way the Dowager Duchess would look at the housemaid who got caught sneaking a cookie off the tea tray. I’m not companion, I’m “staff.”
I know I have too much stuff but I have to confess I accumulate books the way some women accumulate lipsticks or shoes. I have several pairs of shoes but one or two favorites that I alternate depending on the season .I don’t do makeup, and as for clothes, I have lots of t-shirts and jeans but that’s about it for my sartorial splendor. Aside from cat hair, which my house seems to have an overabundance, the things most in evidence when you walk in the door are books. Everywhere. Well, maybe not everywhere but a lot of places, for sure. Most of them live in one or the other of the bookcases I brought from my former house, tall lush red mahogany-finished six-shelved wooden containers that stand on the same wall but at different ends of the living room/kitchen/workroom/den/family room that occupies most of the floor space of the house. There are books piled on my desktop, usually the most currently-being-used reference or textbooks that frequently form a stack where my Kindle can rest on top, having a fairly sizeable library of books contained in its mechanical innards that are encased in plastic and between the protective leather covers of its case. There are books on the bookcase attached to my desk, in the black wire mesh file container on the floor next to the desk, on top of the seldom-used scanner, and even piled higgledy-piggledy on the same shelves of the bookcases as their more neatly (and conventionally) displayed peers. Of course, the bookshelves have some other things on them too, things like knick-knacks, a stack of coasters, a video or two, a slinky that is a reminder of a long-ago classroom discussion and even stuff that is simply in transit but just hasn’t been picked up for delivery to its proper location yet. Some of it has been waiting quite a while, unfortunately. But over and above all, the bookcases are full of books, books, books and more books.
The books aren’t uniform like bound leather sets of classics we used to be able to buy a volume at a time and which presented an imposing façade on the shelves. Some of mine are tall, some are short, some thick, some thin, but each one is there because I either want to read it, am reading it, have read it, plan to read it again or because it has some special meaning. It’s so hard to part with a book; I should know as I had to part with 35 boxes of them when I moved from my former house to this one. I kept as many as I could, too many perhaps, but a girl has to have some kind of vice and books are mine. I revel in the sight of them, finding enjoyment in the visual of their diverse colors and textures. There is the plain turquoise-covered hardback of Ginger’s book that I edited for her cheek-by-jowl with the rather exuberantly plaid dust jacket of Jean’s book that her family chose for it. There are a few somber black covers with brighter, busier ones mixed in. There are dull covers and glossy ones, hard covers and more pliable ones, each one a tactile treat to handle when taken down from the shelves. They even have their own scents. Most have a faint reminder that the paper and even many of the covers were once part of a forest mixed with the slight aroma of ink that has been applied to the pages. Most of them seem to have a hint of dust but one in particular reminds me of home. I bought that book second-hand and when I opened the package in which it arrived, there was the smell of damp and mildew, much like the air of the little library in the basement of the Customs House in my home town, a room with brick walls almost three centuries old and only a pair of tiny windows near the ceiling of the room for ventilation. I’ve aired that particular book out fairly well, but even though I haven’t read it yet, I still go to it now and again and open it, just to take a mini-vacation back home and to a simpler, perhaps happier time.
My books are my oasis, my university, my art gallery, my passports. I could no more live without them than I could live without air – or cats. It’s almost time to pare down the collection again and I am beginning to dread it. How to choose which books with which to part so that there is room for new additions? There will be new additions, that’s for certain. Maybe I could get rid of something else first? Now there’s a thought….