Thursday, March 07, 2013

Book End

Despite not having wall cavity insulation the family homestead is always a toasty sanctuary even in the deepest cold of winter.

This, I am sure, is down to the sheer number of books that line our walls and bookshelves. Both Karen and I love books and, when we threw our lot in together, we found that we both gained through the other’s avidly acquisitional nature the equivalent of an entire rain forest’s worth of books.

I swear to God we have so many books it is probably not worth us ever buying new wallpaper. You can’t see the bloody walls so why bother with a nice bit of William Morris?

Although I’ve shed a few books over the years (half-hearted attempts at life laundry) I have on the whole always regretted such endeavours. A book is for life, not just for Christmas. They are old friends. Old haunts. Places of comfort, recovery and healing.

And when a book is particularly good I always plan in my heart to read it again. To pass that way at least one more time.

But you know what it’s like: there’s always a backlog of new books to get through – a most pleasurable chore if ever there was one – the chances of me re-reading the majority of my favourite books is a slim one at best but I’ve always lived in hope.

It is surely a sign of increasing agedness that that hope is beginning to wane.

I’m actually re-reading an old favourite at the moment – the first in a series of 14 that I plan to plough all the way through in an orgy of escapism – a book I first read 22 years ago. The final part was only published last year – a couple of years after the author’s death. This huge epic tale was the last story he ever wrote so it all gives my return to his world a certain frisson.

To sink into a familiar world with characters who are old friends is as comfy-making as drinking hot chocolate in bed and watching an old movie. It is good for the soul. And it makes me think how right I was to hang onto these books and not pass them on or sell them or throw them out. And it confirms in me the stance that I shall never be parted from these books because I would love the opportunity to read them again one more time.

But then it hit me.

If it’s taken me 22 years to re-read the first am I ever going to re-read them again? In another 22 years? In my sixties? If I’m lucky I might manage another rendezvous in my eighties but, really, how likely is that? I might be reading The Lady at that point – and that only for feeble titillation purposes.

I was a young naïve man when I first read this book. And now I’m a middle aged slightly learned man. Certainly I’m grumpier and more cynical.

And life seems shorter.

Too short to read all the new books I want and certainly too short to re-read all of the old ones.

I have to face facts: there are books within my horde that I am just never going to get to read again – no matter how much I might wish to and no matter how much I might try to never buy a new one (that would just be a fool’s labour).

But still I can’t bear to part with any of them.

They don’t just keep the house warm, you see… they keep me warm too.

20 comments:

Gorilla Bananas said...

They'd keep you warmer if you burned them, but I suppose that's too 3rd Reich for England. When are you going to join the Kindle revolution? Trees have more important uses than giving you relics to finger and paw.

Steve said...

Gorilla Bananas: burning the books I already own is not going to help the trees at all. As for Kindle - I have one of those too. There is room on my shelves for both. Just.

EmmaK said...

I'm afraid I'm one of those tight arsed gits who doesn't buy books hardly ever because they just hang around gathering dust. I just check them out at the library probably depriving some poor author of his royalties. Ho hum, I suppose there are worse crimes against humanity.
Come on over my lovely and enter my limerick competition, would love to have you!

Marginalia said...

Ah the wisdom of age!

You could try taking a speed reading course. I hear that JFK was a dab hand at that and look who he bedded.

Alternatively you could get your family to read them to you. It's been scientifically proved ( or so Lord Bragg tells me) that a person can listen to three reading simultaneously and understand all three. That does require the reader to speak clearly so a West Country of Black Country burr might handicap the enterprise.

Steve said...

Emma: you'd love to have me, eh? You and so many others... in the meantime I shall come and partake of your delicious limericks...

Marginalia: curses! Why did I have to be born so close to Birmingham!?!

Kellie @ Delightfully Ludicrous said...

I feel the same way about books. You can never have too many of them, and you don't get rid of them just because you've already read them. I've always had a hard time convincing my family of that though.

Keith said...

This post made me scurry, all Miss Marple like, to deduce what book you were about to reread.

I think I sussed it. And i have to say, despite having an equally book insulated home, I have never heard of it, or any of the rest of it's 13 brothers.

But, having, at the last calculations, enough unread books to last me three years as it is, I will resist the urge to grab a copy and crack it's spine.

Enjoy the moment, the rediscovery of what made it so special to you, and bugger tomorrow. You can reread them all, no problem.

Nota Bene said...

I feel the same about some of CDs in my music collection...should you ever get round to disposing of them try replacing them with this http://www.osborneandlittle.com/news-and-events/penguin_library_wallpaper

libby said...

A couple of years ago we had to start keeping books in the garage as we had so many...and then after a while, when they were covered in dust and hadn't been touched for years we gave them all to the Oxfam book shop...but after a couple of hundred she said she couldn't take any more......so lots of other places got them and then eventually it felt good to get rid of them all ....one day you will feel this way too I suspect...

Steve said...

Kellie: you have to be a book lover to be enlightened.

Keith: I like your optimism. And I'm sure you have correctly identified the books in question - there can't be many authors who would dedicate 14 books to one story.

Nota Bene: nice idea... I'd love Faber & Faber to do the same. Some Ted Hughes on my walls would lend the place some much needed gravitas.

Libby: I wouldn't count on it. All my dalliances with life laundry are always followed by bitter regret.

English Rider said...

I rarely succeed in having two or three books ahead of me, unread. I used to mistakenly repurchase books as the darn publishers change the cover art to fool me and I don't remember titles too well. Now, I never buy anything printed more than six months ago and I give away all but a few when I'm done. Problem solved.

Steve said...

English Rider: you're a lot stronger about it that I ever could be!

the fly in the web said...

There are still walls of books in the house in France...this house is full and the overflow is taking over in the house in San Jose...


And we don't even need insulation!

I can't sign in on the Wordpress thing for some reason....

Steve said...

The fly in the web: it's nice to think there all these private libraries all over the world...

Löst Jimmy said...

I'm surrounded by books, comics, records, CDs, and it's where I belong. I'd take the Harley into the house if the front door is wide enough and I could sneak it past 'her indoors'....Long Live Your Books!

Steve said...

Löst Jimmy: you're a man after my own heart.

Clippy Mat said...

I used to have a bookshelf of books in every room. Then I decided to bring them all together in one place and it feels so much better. There are some books that I will never part with because I WILL read them again and there are others that I was happy to give away. There's not much point to this comment really but I just wanted to say that people who like books are my kinda people.
;-)

Steve said...

Clippy Mat: I couldn't agree more.

Lady Mondegreen's Secret Garden said...

Been unable to comment on lots of favourite blogs but I'll give this a go, cos... I too am a book keeper. There's mine, then there's all of those that were in the other house, that I read some of in my youth, oh and my husband's which have been stacked away along with everything else during earthquake repairs. My logic says don't leave them for the kids to clear out; my heart says how could I do without my books. And by the by, Chrsitchurch book dealers are being overwhelmed by earthquake evacuees being brave and clearing away all those toppled bookcases as the move into the rebuild stage.

Steve said...

Lady Mondegreen's Secret Garden: the books we inherit from other people are the most valuable of all. I have some of my granddad's old books and I wouldn't part with them for the world.