I have moved four times in under four years. I’ve watched a lot of items come and go… furniture, cookware, linens… I don’t feel upset sending boxes to Goodwill nor do I mind adapting to new spaces, but I cannot let go of my books. Even books I disliked remain a part of my life. This attachment to books is something that fascinates me. It’s also something I don’t entirely understand. How can I say goodbye to old sweaters and kitchenware if I cannot part with a book?
A lot of readers sympathize with this struggle. Those who are bonded to books often feel compelled to protect them, to stash or even steal them. While travelling, I’ve stumbled upon many a market filled with books. In their presence, the strangest sensation tends to wash over me. A wild feeling, one of intense craving, one that only subsides after I’ve boughten a book (often a book I do not need.) In addition to financially burdening myself, the problem with buying books while traveling is that you are stuck with them. Somehow this never inhibits me. I have learned to use every inch of my backpack, sliding books down the back, cramming them anywhere they’ll fit. I suppose one might consider this an obsession. It probably is. All I know is that I’m not alone in having developed an attachment to books.
In 1975, New York Magazine published an article in their home furnishings section. The article, titled “Shelf Awareness” by Veronica MicNiff, offered a shelving solution to those whose books had begun to pile around them, walls building within walls. The article admitted that books have a curious way of finding their way into houses, sneaking in like stray animals. My bookshelves are now full and I tend to stack books on my desk, on the floor or in bins around my apartment. I haven’t read them all and yet I love them to death.
Leonard Ross, co-author of The Best, was quoted describing his bookshelves collapsing.
…for example, the moment when my entire storage system, an affair of tension poles and planks, began to quiver. Then it was all over, on the floor- Jacqueline Susann cheek by jowl with Kant.
The article, somewhat humorously, addressed book owners by offering a “cheap and architecturally chic” solution. The solution? Industrial Shelving. Clearly, book lovers are a marketable audience in more than one way.
Leo Lerman, a writer for Vogue, was quoted regarding his own collection.
the books are absolutely everywhere and only I know where anything is.”
Meanwhile, playwright Geoffrey Bellman asserted, when asked about his father’s library, that one cannot simply get rid of books.
But you can’t just get rid of books. You think, it’s gone too far, I’ll get rid of two or three hundred, and you end up with three to throw out. One is a duplicate copy of Sense and Sensibility, the others are in German, a language you don’t even know.
How do we acquire books in languages foreign to us? There’s something magical about books, about holding stories in one’s hands. I own a french copy of John Updike’s novel, Brazil (and while I do speak French my skills have declined rather severely) of which I have read little. Every time I consider relinquishing the book to someone else I find myself picking it up, flipping through, reading but a few pages. In this scant reading I find myself justifying my ownership of that worn and lonely paperback.
I dream to someday own a house with rooms dedicated to books, to reading and writing, to marvelling in worlds that extend beyond my own. For now, however, I will continue to let books swim between my sheets, pile on top of my fridge or gather in the spare pockets of my purses. For now, and probably forever, I will succumb to these mischievous paper creatures for they have, mysteriously, stolen my heart.