A beautiful essay by Anne Fadiman prompted me to think about what sort of a book lover I am. And my relationship with books.
A Courtly Book Lover
According to Anne in the essay “Never Do That to a Book”, there are two types of book lovers.
Courtly Book Lover: This type of book worm keeps their books in pristine condition. No creases, folds, dog ears, writing in the margins. Nope. Nothing to sully the bookshop freshness of the books. I would go as far as to say that the book retains its virginal state throughout its life.
That’s me. A Courtly book lover!
How Books Find Me
I used to love to visit the local book stores and browse for hours through the various sections. I used to. This was in the past. Before online shopping and the arrival of Flipkart and Amazon.
I still love the feel of entering a book store, and seeing rows upon rows of books of different sizes, shapes, colors, and smells.
But it just seems easier to shop online. Especially when I hear about a book from a friend, or read a highly compelling book review. I have the urge to possess the book immediately. There is no patience to wait until the weekend to drive up to the book store. In any case, with book stores becoming an endangered species, the chances of finding the book I want are also rather slim.
It is faster and more satisfying to pull out the mobile phone, open the app, find the book (or books) I want, and place the order at once.
And then count the days, hours, and minutes to the arrival of the book.
When a New Book Arrives…
When a new book arrives, three things happen.
First, I run my hands lovingly over the cover. I take a moment to appreciate the cover design.
Next, I flip the pages and smell the book. I love the smell of books. I have to admit that older books smell good too. But a freshly printed book smells so good that it makes me giddy with excitement. It is a standing joke among friends. Whenever anyone hands me a book, they watch me carefully. I immediately sniff the book like a dog. Then there is either a “aaaah” or a “bleah” from me. And then they all guffaw heartily.
And finally, I open the first page and write my name, the date the book arrived in my hands, and sometimes, I note the circumstances in which I bought the book. Say, in transit through XYZ airport. This little bit of writing is the only blemish I allow on my books.
Soon after all this, a bookmark is installed into the book in anticipation of the actual reading. No leaving my books face down…ever!
Bookmarks and Then Some
Since my books can’t be left face down, I need lots of bookmarks. When I was younger, I used to make them myself. I also got into the habit of collecting bookmarks. Most often, when we traveled out, the memoir I would bring back would be a bookmark.
Bookmarks made of sandalwood, delicate lace and crochet bookmarks, bookmarks with holograms on them, all of these became my prized possessions.
How I Find Authors
In recent years, I have found most of my favorite authors through conversations with friends. Gerald Durrell, Douglas Adams, Lee Child, Paulo Coelho, all of them and more walked into my life and my bookshelf because of conversations, invariably over coffee. I am thankful to so many friends who introduced me to these authors and opened up my world.
One of the funniest ways an author walked into my bookshelf was because of my little girl. One fine day, she came home from school holding a book. Apparently the school had a book exhibition. She bought one book. It was for me.
It is called Keep Calm and Mommy On by Dr Tanu Shree Singh. I couldn’t stop laughing. She obviously thought I needed tips on parenting 🙂
Having said that, the book turned out to be a delightful and insightful read, and now I look forward to other books by the same author.
And Some Books Wait for the Right Time
One recent conversation led to a friend telling me that when the time is right, the book will find us.
I do believe in this. There is a time and a place for books to impact us. For the longest time, I could not read more than 2 pages of Paulo Coelho. I guess the time was not right.
The biggest example of this is the Harry Potter series. When the buzz around Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone reached a fever pitch at the office, I decided to buy myself a copy. I read about 5 pages. I simply could not continue. What was all the fuss about, I wondered.
The buzz continued and spilled out of my ears. I could not go back to the book.
A year later, one lazy afternoon, with no other book to read, I started reading the same book again. I was hooked for life. After that, I waited in line for my release day copy!
How do you explain this? Same person, same book, different day!
The Joy of Arranging the Books
Every once in a while, the bookshelf has to be re-organized. Having made the mistake of building shelves that can hold books 3 layers deep, it is tough to find the book we want quickly.
So we (the kid and I) keep coming up with different ways to organize the shelf. Once it was by author and series. Once it was by genre. Once it was by size.
The most interesting one I have come across is a friend’s bookshelf that was organized by color. Beats me how he found any book, but it was delightful to see.
None of these arrangements help with a 3-book-deep shelf. So I have clicked pictures of each row. When we want to find a book, we consult the photos and then dig straight into that row.
And Finally, Giving Away Books
This is the toughest thing for me to do. I know a lot of people who read a book and then pass it on to other interested readers. I am not one of them. I do read quite a few of them several times. Especially the ones that become movies. I love to revise the story before I watch the movie.
There is no explanation for why I can’t give away books that I know I will probably never read again. I seem to have an emotional attachment to my books.
What else will explain nearly 100 issues of Reader’s Digest from my childhood that moved across 6 houses with me? Or nearly 50 copies of a children’s magazine called Target. I finally found the strength to donate them to other avid readers.
I am hanging on to so many books from my childhood. For the longest time, the explanation to myself was that one day my child will inherit them all. Said child has read them (or not) and has no emotional attachment to any of them. What’s my excuse now?
No excuse. Other than, I love all my books.
I am a possessive book hoarder and I am building my own tsundoku empire!
P.S: Notice how I have carefully avoided any reference to e-books or e-book readers. I am old-fashioned. After all, I am a Courtly Book Lover.