24 February 2007

Too many books ... ?

I was asked in an e-mail "do you read a lot?"

My wife thinks that one can have too many books; I don't. She thinks that books that have been read, and are unlikely ever to be read again should be sent to the Oxfam shop; I don't.

I have never got rid of a book I have bought or have been given. Every book I read is like a milestone on the path of my moral or spiritual development (a few are signs pointing backwards). That's why I don't want to get rid of them. Just looking at the spine reminds me of where the book came from, as well as what I got out of it; I remember when I read it, and what it meant to me at the time. Sometimes I reread it, just because I noticed it.

I have, from time to time, kept a diary: a thousand words a day isn't that hard, when you aren't trying to be literary, and at the end of a three year period of writing diaries, you have a million words: each of which, like Proust's madeleines, takes you back to a particular point in time and place, and lets you compare then and now: remembrance of times past is not just nostalgia: it allows you to comapre then and now. But my words are just about me: real books tell me about everything else.

I realised recently that unless Mystic Meg does it for me, and I come into untold wealth to build an extension to the house, I will never be able to put all my books out. I have what I like to think of as a few hundred books in boxes in the garage, but my airy assumption about numbers is, I know, an underestimate. I have a few on the floor by my side of the bed, but I counted "the few" and found that there were fifty-three, in two great piles.

I look to my right and in a glance see "The Awe Inspiring Rites of Initiation" by Fr Yarnold next to "Hell and other Destinations" by Piers Paul Read next to "The Pendulum Years" by Bernard Levin next to "While Rome Burns" by Alexander Woollcott next to "Moab is my Washpot" by Stephen Fry next to "SOE 1940-46" by MRD Foot: five books among twenty on one shelf of a set of bookcases which go from floor to ceiling. The "New Marian Missal" (the 1962 Missal: my ninth birthday present from my parents) is next to the Liber Usualis that my Mother was given after completing the course for Catholic teachers run by the monks of Solesmes. "The Biggest Pub Quiz Book Ever" is next to the "Atlas and Index of Parish Registers"; "The Crossman Diaries" is next to "The Battle for the Falklands"; the "Family Historian's Enquire Within" is next to "The Royal Irish Constabulary".

I'd have to turn my head more than 90 degrees to start on the fiction books, and their are five cases just in this room full of them. And that's just one room in a house where seven have some or more, or a lot more, books.

My life is encompassed by the books I read: they guide and teach me when nobody else does; they are a refuge when the world presses in; they are a stimulus in a grey society; they are a large part of my world.

1 comment:

Mac McLernon said...

Wow... that's a serious book habit you've got there!

BTW, you've been tagged