Friday, June 15, 2007

A bibliophile’s dilemma

I don’t even remember when I fell in love with books.

I’m one of those people with an outrageous memory, and distinctly recall even my early childhood, and I remember (and have been told by my parents) that I was a fairly early reader. Some of my memories are associated with the houses I lived in, and with every house (including the house I lived in when I was around 3 or 4 years old, before moving to Malleshwaram in Bangalore for the next three years) there have been books associated with them. In kindergarden and firstgrade I had ploughed through Noddy, collections of other Enid Blyton stories with toys as major characters, and Dr. Seuss, which I found in the house of my first grade teacher, which was also the school for us 20 kids. I read my first Asterix comic in second grade, and am still amazed at the timelessness, richness and absolute brilliance of that series, which I reread constantly, and learn something new each time. I must have been one of the few kids in school who read the textbooks (particularly the History, Geography and English books) before each school year started, for fun. And the books kept piling on, blurring as they increased in number and diversity. I need to read a book, or a section of a book, just about every single day.

But this isn’t about books loved and read. It’s about being a bibliophile. Ever since I can remember, I actually loved the books themselves. I love holding books, I love the smell of old books, I love looking at books on bookshelves, I love placing my books on bookshelves, and arranging them in some kind of topical order. And then I’d go and rearrange the topically arranged books into sub-sections, tallest books closest to the end of the bookshelf. I hate creasing books, or using dog-ears to mark the page. I hate leaving a book open and upturned. Books are almost living creatures, to be cherished.

I almost feel like some kind of reborn librarian.

But this love for books can make life rather difficult. I cannot resist buying books. When I lived in Seattle, I would spend many hours in the numerous used bookstores all around campus, picking up little treasures while soaking up the smell of varnish, ink and paper. I spend hours on the internet looking at books on Amazon, from classic authors to personal favorites. “Why buy a book when you can borrow it from the library?” is a constant question. But that’s the whole point. A book isn’t complete unless it rests on your bookshelf.

Our present apartment is tiny, and there really isn’t too much place for bookshelves, even if they are 8 feet tall. The bookshelves in the living room are all groaning with the weight they have to bear, with misshapen shelves, books piled atop each other, and the distinct possibility of the entire units collapsing. But I cannot come around to taking out the books, putting them in a box, and then putting them away in a closet. Nor can I keep away from visiting the nearest half price bookstore, or buying more books.

Now, logic states that doing that would be the most efficient way to go about things. Space is at a premium. Clearly, I cannot read all the books all the time. If I read a book, it is unlikely that I will revisit it for months, or perhaps even years (unless it is a favorite constantly reached out for). Perhaps even never read it again. So, once I’ve read a book, it can be safely put away. Or it could even be sold, at a used bookstore or on Ebay or Amazon.

But nooooooo, I cannot do that. The book has to be on a bookshelf. I mean, dang it, the book deserves a home doesn’t it? A nice, respectable spot it can call it’s home? Living amongst kin?

If I argue with my wife about this (who very astutely and correctly points out that once read they can be stored away in boxes in a closet), I know my argument has no sound legs to stand on.

But on that rainy Sunday afternoon, when even the thought of TV detests me, I know I can always reach out and find a classic in my own collection that I haven’t read, or can reach out and discover something new in something old.

Or I could just rearrange all the books on the bookshelf, chronologically or alphabetically or by author or by subject, and at the end of it all stand triumphant, and glow with satisfaction.


Transmogrifier said...

I mean, dang it, the book deserves a home doesn’t it? A nice, respectable spot it can call it’s home? Living amongst kin?

As a fellow bibliophile who is facing an upcoming move of his entire collection 500 miles in his tiny old car... I totally agree with every word. I simply cannot bear the thought of giving away or selling any of my books. The do deserve a good home. There is a Sanskrit subhashitam which reads:

जलाद्र्क्षेत तैलाद्र्क्षेत रक्षेत शिथिलबंधनात
मूर्खहस्ते न दातव्यम एवं वदति पुस्तकम

"protect me from water, oil and loose binding. Don't let me fall into the hands of a moorkha (literally a stupid person)", thus says a book.

Wish you many more great reads.

CuriousCat said...

Ok, sunil, you are crazier than I realized!:)) But that is not why I came here. I have a "Neyar Viruppam" for you. Can you tell lay readers like me the bio chemistry answer to the question "What is pain?"

Anonymous said...

Sunil - You are certainly more prolific reader. I have another friend - Gururaj gudi - who too has ecletic taste and built one of the nicest compact "home" for books ranging from "amar chitra katha"(s), indrajal comics(mandrake/phantom) to comic/horror/business/technical books. I am in process of searching a good "home" for my books too.

Books are the few things
1) which can be bought and need to be cared for, I dislike self for treating books with no care.
2) which provide support which most humans lack

Do not put them away in box as even I was forced to do, they need to adorn the wall with warmth of light and chill of seattle wind once in while.

Anonymous said...

Sunil, the post struck a chord. When I moved from the US to Norway, I left my collection of books in my friend's basement hoping he would send them to me when I settle down here. I am yet to recieve them after 4 years, but nevertheless, check on their well being over the phone.

I made a decision not to but too many books (if one can ever say that) in case I had to go through the parting pangs once again. A few months in Norway, I could not stop myself and have populated my bookshelf here and am on the lookout for another one now!!!

Wavefunction said...

Using dog ears to mark a book page is like folding up a dog's ears when you leave him to come back and play with him later.

gawker said...

"I must have been one of the few kids in school who read the textbooks (particularly the History, Geography and English books) before each school year started, for fun."

You and me, my friend.

Sunil said...

transmogrifier, that was a really nice quote. Should print that out and stick it on my bookshelf. Good luck moving. And if you decide to ship them, media mail and USPS works just fine and isn't expensive at all.

Curious cat....that is a great question, and it is a little too complex to answer on a comment thread since pain has too many different molecular as well as mental components. So, i'll try to write a post on pain this week.

Govind, i strongly support any effort to find nice bookshelves for your books. They deserve it. actually gave away your books for safe keeping? When I moved from Seattle to Dallas, pretty much the only things I shipped were my books, cds, vdos and dvds. The rest, IMO, weren't necessary. And if you like buying books, you can never stop (and I hope you dont).

Ashutosh...ouch. Poor dog (and book).

Gawker...good for you. You are a man of much wisdom, as I always suspected.

Veo Claramente said...


Could not agree more. I have, and will make full use floor space when all else runs out. Also, I love the IKEA Expedit bookshelves because they have extra wide shelves and you can have two levels, one behidn the other. That makes poking around so much more fun.


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Reema Sahay said...

I completely understand the joy of owning the books. I also buy books at a maniac pace. And since I buy online (all new ones), it is getting a little expensive hobby. Anyways, my 1st cupboard was completely stocked up, and then my husband was kind enough to gift me another on my birthday. I just love the feeling that I will be able to buy so many more nice books! I have a blog on book reviews:
do visit sometime