Ode to Books

There are fewer things more personal.  Each one has a story and it reveals quite a lot about you.  Really, it’s a brave thing, putting your books out on a shelf for others to see.  Seldom have I read a book more euphoric about a book than Alberto Manguel’s The Library at Night.  A deeply literate book collector unashamed, Manguel takes the reader on a pleasurable tour of many aspects of libraries, including his personal one.  Libraries may represent many things because books are so varied.  Many of us who are bibliophiles are used to trying to justify our libraries to those who don’t care to read or to complaining movers threatening to quit.  Or even to those who write books claiming other books are clutter.  Manguel understands.

Those of us with many books but little of anything else can tell you the story behind most individual books we have.  Where we bought them and why.  Why we’ve kept them even if we haven’t read them.  Manguel understands that not all books are reading books.  There are reference books.  There are episodic instructional books.  There are books laid up against retirement or incapacitation.  Books for work, books for play.  Books bought to help you prepare for that event that never took place but might, in some remote future, still happen.  Yes, books take up space, but so do pets, furniture, and children.  There’s a cheerfulness to rooms with books, unrivaled even by elegant spaces.

On a recent dentist visit the television was set to one of those shows where a couple is given their dream home.  I’ve watched those before in other waiting rooms and medical facilities and one thing I’ve never seen is a couple saying, “I want a home to fit my books.” And yet those homes with books occasionally make the news and garner thousands of clicks on the internet.  Those of us who are bibliophiles know we’re a minority.  Some of us actually enjoyed those high school reading assignments that so many of our classmates despised.  Our educational system, undervaluing teachers as we do, often fails to inspire the love of reading in the young.  Manguel’s book is for those who were inspired, who remain inspired by books.  Those of us who categorize and move them around.  Take them with us.  Who love them.  The Library at Night is a beautiful book full of wisdom.  It is a love letter to books. Happy National Independent Bookstore Day!


New Habits

We are a family of readers.  Still, during the pandemic things change.  Not only is my wife working from home, my daughter is also here, doing the same.  This seemed to be the most logical thing, given that her housemates weren’t working from home, and who needs pointless potential exposure?  What became clear to all of us is that pandemic normal was actually close to our normal normal.  I mean, I don’t get out as much on weekends now, but other than the panic, Monday through Friday are pretty much the same as always.  Awake obscenely early.  Start work before sunrise.  Finish work, eat supper, go to bed.  The real change has been on my reading habits.

When things are “normal” (if that word can ever apply to me), during the time my wife drives home from work, I read.  I also read in the morning and before going to bed, but that latter doesn’t last long if I’m tired.  Now, however, we’re all here and after work is over family time begins.  I don’t begrudge this for a nanosecond, but it does affect my reading habits.  You see, self-isolation has been a way of life for me long before the pandemic began.  Not necessarily because I wanted it this way, but I have always tried to preserve time for books.  I don’t have the reading time of a professor, so I have to carve it out of personal time.  In situations like this even bibliophiles have to admit that people are more important than books.  Still, with only essential businesses open, and Amazon delivering only essential items, books have fallen between the cracks.  Some of us consider them essential.

My daughter said the other day that not being able to buy books was worrying.  Indeed it is.  We’re pretty well stocked here for reading material.  I’ve got plenty of books I want to read, but I lack the time.  Also, one of my reading challenges specifies the particular types of books I need to target, including recent ones.  How am I to get them?  Our local library is closed.  As are the bookstores.  It’s beginning to feel like an episode of The Twilight Zone—being isolated but not having access to new books.  At work they’re suggesting which television shows to binge watch during the long hours of enforced alone time.  Me, I standing in front of my bookshelves staring in wonder and indecision.  Pandemic or no pandemic, it is time to read.


Shocking Truth

The electrician recently stopped by. We’re renters and although I don’t mind doing minor household repairs to benefit the landlord, I draw the line at electricity. It’s a scary thing. I’ve been shocked too many times to want a jolt bigger than I can handle. I even once accidentally grabbed the metal prongs when unplugging something as a child (it was a microscope light, I remember) and that helpless feeling of being unable to drop the plug even while my body jerked uncontrollably left me with a healthy respect for those who actually understand insulation, capacitors, and those impossible electrical diagrams. So when the pull chain came out of the ceiling light I wasn’t going to try to fix it.

The electrician, like most people who see our apartment, commented on the books. “You like to read,” he said. I can’t help but feel guilty about that. It’s almost as if you should apologize for requiring the stimulation of so many tomes. I confessed that I did, but I wanted to justify it. “I work in publishing,” I feebly offered as an excuse. Concentrating on the fixture above his head, he said, “I don’t ever read a book unless I have to.” He fixed the pull chain and left. I couldn’t have fixed the thing so quickly, or safely. He even had a metal ladder. I was grateful for the light, but once again felt somewhat freakish for my bibliophilia.

Those of us who write books must read books. You can’t learn how to do one without the other. Because of movies and television, we picture writers as people with large houses and separate rooms as libraries where they can sit surrounded by books as they type away at their next bestseller. Those of us who work for a living seldom have such luxury. A separate room just for books? I like letting my books reside in whatever room they feel like. Most affordable apartments don’t come with a study. There are living room books that you want people to see, and kitchen books that suggest good things to eat. There are bedroom books that you might not want others to see. What I don’t have is a library. A book zoo. My books roam freely about my home. It occurs to me that one area lacking in my collection is one about household wiring. Maybe instead of feeling weird I should get wired. I’m sure there are books out there that will tell me how. Or at least that will let me know that a wooden ladder makes a poor conductor.