“I love the book. I love the feel of a book in my hands, the compactness of it, the shape, the size. I love the feel of paper. The sound it makes when I turn a page. I love the beauty of print on paper, the patterns, the shapes, the fonts. I am astonished by the versatility and practicality of The Book. It is so simple. It is so fit for its purpose. It may give me mere content, but no e-reader will ever give me that sort of added pleasure.”—Susan Hill, Howard’s End is on the Landing.
I could have written these words. Like Hill, I am a bibliophile—one who loves and collects books. My books are friends. To have my friends around me is a comforting simple pleasure, a delight. I’m all for living with less—less clutter, less activity, less stress. Except when it comes to my books.
You’ll have to pry my books from my cold, dead hands.
In addition to my ever-growing pile of to-be-read (TBR) books, I have many shelves of books I’ve already read. They’re not valuable first editions, but they’re treasured and priceless to me. I cull them from time to time, but I take so much pleasure in my personal library that it would be painful to disperse it. (If you’d like a peek at my shelves, click here—I was part of Danielle’s Lost in the Stacks Home Edition feature at A Work in Progress.)
I don’t keep every book I buy—only ones I think I’ll reread at least once, books I’ll use for reference and/or inspiration, and books that were once important to me that I can’t quite give up yet.
Some of the books I own I’ve searched for over years, or stumbled upon serendipitously. Less than a handful are autographed by their authors, including a copy of the children’s classic Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Day. Many years ago I heard the author, Judith Viorst, speak at my local library, and was completely tongue-tied when I asked her to sign my book afterwards. Just looking at that book reminds me of the entire experience of that night.
My books don’t have to be beautiful, but as I’ve gotten older (and my bookshelves more crowded), I’ve started being pickier about what they look like. It pained me that my second-hand copy of All Passion Spent had an unattractive cover illustration (but not enough for me to turn down the copy that became available on Paperback Swap). I covet the lovely dove-gray Persephone books, though I’ve yet to collect my first one. Perhaps looking for books I think are attractive will slow down the entire acquisition process!
I use books to boost my mood, and it’s comforting to have my favorites at my fingertips. There are certain books I reread frequently—not having them on hand might constitute an emotional crisis.
As William Giraldi writes in “Why We Need Physical Books”: “Across a collector’s bookshelves, upright and alert like uniformed sentinels, are segments of his personal history, segments that he needs to summon in order to ascertain himself fully, which is part of his motive for reading books in the first place—whatever else it is, a life with books is incentive to remember, and in remembering, understand.”
I start every day in my office, where I allow my eyes to play over the titles on my shelves while I drink my morning coffee. So many of the books I’ve kept have left a lasting mark on me, and sometimes I need to see them to remember. I need to pull them off the shelf and flip through them, letting them transport and transform me for a second time. What could be more of a simple pleasure than that?