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.