Saturday, July 15, 2006

On collecting. books.

I am trying to organize my books for the first time in over a year, a Sisyphean task given the reckless way I have been buying books for the past several months. I am reminded of what Marion Cunningham said to Ruth Reichl in Tender at the Bone, that when she was an alcoholic "[she] worried that the people who made gin would stop making it, and that [she] would be left with nothing to drink. To guard against that [she] hid gin all over the house. Just knowing it was there made [her] feel a little bit better." As words are my inebriate of choice, I understand how she felt; in order to guard against my fear that I will someday be left with nothing to read, I keeping buying books and leaving them all over the place.

There are books all over the floor, tumbling from bookshelves, in piles after being rescued from the bathroom, the kitchen, the living room. Yesterday I found books in my car that I have no memory of buying. It is like a treasure hunt, buying books that you don't read right away, and forget about, until one day, perhaps even years later, you come across this book, and think, oh, something new. And then you open it, are swept away, regret that you had not read it earlier, but exhilarated by having discovered it at all.

In theory everything is organized by author, and by publisher, and oftentimes in chronological order. The reality is that nothing gets put away after it has been read, and winds up instead under the bed, or on the desk, and I can never find the book I want when I want it, which means it took me a week to realize that The Fall of America was actually on the shelf next to Howl, where it should be and where I should have found it days ago, instead of everywhere else I looked. Books pile up on my bed, on the floor next to my bed, and I trip over them as I stumble, half-awake, to the door in the morning, and instead of picking them up I leave them as they fell. I am, in short, a complete slob.

The more I sort through the books, the more books appear, as if they are secretly multiplying in the dark. I know this is my own fault, that I wander through the bookstore and later find myself at home again, looking at a bag of books in my hand with surprise. It is my weakness, although like any addict I do not consider my obsession with books a weakness. The covers call to me, the titles whisper to me, take me home with you, read me, love me. I will enchant you, set your mind on fire, and if I break your heart it is only so that I can make you whole again. So I do, and they do.

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