I have always imagined Paradise to be a kind of library
– Jorge Luis Borges
I’ve been indulging my passion for books during the second half of this pregnancy. I figure that I’m not going to have much time for reading once the baby comes, so I have to get all my reading in now.
I have a very modest library of around 450 books, which is no where near my fantasy library, but it does keep me happy. What matters to me is not so much the quantity, but the quality of the reading material. I collect books that I love to read, not because they are collector’s items: Dickens is just as fine in a penguin classic as he is in a rare first edition – the words have no more meaning because they are bound in calf hide. Having said that, I do understand the lure of an old book. I even own a few from the 19th century, but again I bought these because I have a personal interest in the content and I wanted the original edition without the modern interpretations or modifications. I’ve always thought owning a library of first editions or rare books would be a burden, not only because they are expensive, but caring for such a library is a hefty responsibility. There is a feeling with old and rare books that you don’t possess them, you are simply a guardian for an unspecified term, a custodian charged with the responsibility of conserving the book until it is time to give it up – usually this is when the owner either wishes to make a profit from a rare edition or passes away. Enjoyment of such a book takes a back seat to its conservation – it must sit alone, or in company with others of its ilk, locked away, talked about but unread, fondled only in the minds of other bibliophiles. I could never be trusted with such a book. Last Christmas my husband bought me a copy of a favourite book I read when I was a child. It is an expensive first edition, in good condition and most of the time it sits inside a glass cabinet, safe from dust and sticky fingers. It is a most beloved edition and I will never part with it, but I regularly feel sorry for the book, sitting alone on the shelf. When the urge presents itself I take it out of the cabinet to caress the binding and get lost once more in the prose. I cannot leave it alone. My smudges and constant fingering of the pages is probably depreciating the book, but what is the point of owning a book if it is not going to be appreciated? A book is more than its condition, its cover or the words printed on its pages. A book is a thumbnail sketch of time, a record of an individual’s thoughts, fears and passions, a dialogue between the writer and the reader. Those are the things that stand out as important in a book for me. I care about the integrity of words more than the integrity of a cover. So I will keep my rare and elderly books, cherishing them by reading and handling them as they were designed to, and are meant to be.