I don’t smoke or drink or even chew gum. My vice: I buy books. Many are worthy of any good library, many, some of you might think, are not. Recent purchases in the former category include Jacques Barzun’s From Dawn to Decadence: 1500 to the Present, and the Merriam Webster New Book of Word Histories. The latter? Well, let’s just call them Fiction: Romances, Mysteries, Romance Mysteries – I’ve a long list of favorite authors.
Since 1990 when I stopped lumping in book money with the rest of our entertainment expenditures, I’ve spent just over $14,000.00 on books, many of them used. Egad! That’s a nice chunk of change. I’m sure the lifetime total would be nicely impressive too, and I delight in every dollar’s worth.
I was reading Theodore Dalrymple’s essay Why second-hand bookshops are just my type, and I came upon the telling of a bibliomaniac whose library was sold after his death for only a third of what he’d paid for the massive collection. I sold off my college text books – about twenty years later - but I can’t imagine selling my books now. I’ve always given them away when I was finished with them. I’ve read many of my books four or five times, but usually when I’ve read a book twice – or have gotten only part way into a real dud – it goes into the bag to be taken to the library for the sale room. Sell them? I’ve not got the time: I’m reading!
Dalrymple’s essay mourns the passing of second-hand bookshops. I’ve rarely had the pleasure of browsing in a second-hand bookshop.* I do now have the pleasure of browsing in second-hand book sites on line. My favorite is Thrift Books, and Britain’s Awesome Books is pretty well that: awesome.
Really, really esoteric volumes can sometimes be found, used, of course, at Amazon – but then, what can’t you find at Amazon? I do browse the shelves of the sale room at the library – always going with book lists in hand to be sure I’ve not read that one before, always looking for new treasures. (And library sale rooms are great sources for children’s books. I’ve got on hand new birthday and Christmas books for my granddaughters will into 2016, but used books are great to hand out throughout the year for un-birthdays and such.)
I don’t know if you’ll think this good or bad, but though I’ve always belonged to the library wherever we lived and occasionally do check out books, I’d really rather own a book than borrow it. If it is mine I can take as long as I want to read it: though I read many books in a week, it gives me the itch to have a time limit on my reading. If it is mine I am happy to let it just sit in my stack of to-be-read and enjoy its being there.
In one paragraph, talking about the pleasures of finding markings and various papers and bookmarks in used books, Dalrymple says “there is no substitute for being able to hold the physical book in one’s hand.” I agree wholeheartedly – but for another reason on another plane: I don’t think I’ll ever be comfortable with an electronic book. A good friend of mine has shown me the wonders of her iPad, and how she can enlarge the type, and how it remembers where she left off, and all the other delights of electronic reading. Not for me. I want to be able to flip back to that remembered reference to a certain character or place – and I remember it was on the left hand page about two inches from the bottom. Yes, there it is. I remembered the ‘landmarks’. Can’t do that with an electronic book.
|This is just a fraction of th books I once owned. I keep them|
and all my litle dustables in our bedroom - this way none of it
has to be dusted very often.
I want to hold the book and not have to be too careful not to drop it in the toilet if I’m in a bathroom reading session – though there I usually read magazines. I want to refer every once in a while to the jacket’s cover picture or inside blurb and bio. I want to see my books – especially the ones I’ve kept and reread for years. Just seeing the books on the shelf gives me a fleeting remembrance of the story. I can’t get that feeling with an electronic device.
Books are neat and compact, easier to collect and store and dust (though I rarely do) than say salt and pepper shakers or automobilia. Yes, for many reasons on many levels, I’ll stick to books as my vice of choice.
*but I love pictures of them – so higgledy-piggledy, stacks and stacks. As the bibliophile’s lament goes: So many books, so little time.