Thursday, October 2, 2014

Burgeoned By Books



At issue is the memory. For what good the thoughts that pass through me other than that I make them useful, or that they change me, advance me, or give me pleasure? That last thought is the easiest to go by (and the reason to go buy, ha!) But books have their magic, and whether in the Bible or the attempts to capture Zen, we are caught up in their pages. Insubstantial air is given weight as thoughts are put on paper. Words become books. And we purchase the books and put them on our shelves (some of them only somewhat read,) for who can recall every sentence?

In Parksville's second-hand bookstore, a week ago, I leaned back in my chair while my eyes feasted. Thousands of books burbled. And there, in The Classics section, volumes of collector's series rested, awaiting their fate. So many words. So many thoughts. So many ideals and dreams and even (for some) so very many machinations for mankind. And so much yet to read!

My own library has been severely culled over time. And built up again. Whether on the fishes of Kariba or on the travels of Epictetus, I have a thing for books. Everything is interesting. But in the very many moves I've made over my lifetime so very many of my volumes have just had to be let go. For instance, there were some 20 or more of the John Jakes series of history novels; all of America's development, gone! And there have been encyclopaedias and history books and biographies and classics too, read and thumbed through and appreciated, somewhat, and now 'forever' gone.
Yet still, the addiction continues. (Even as I wait here in the car and type, and since Christmas is well, coming, my wife is back in that Parksville store, purchasing for me the two rare books on Zambesi once owned and signed by the High Commissioner of Lusaka!) And yet, despite the burgeoning walls of my own collection, I am still hard-put to pass by open boxes of books on tables, or second-hand bookstores, where old treasures lie waiting. And often it is worth it! For instance, for 20+ years I'd searched for the second of a three volume set by R.F. Delderfield, and last year it appeared in an Oak Bay second-hand book store, for a mere $4.25!

"I take great pride in never having read a book cover to cover," Professor John Futhey once beamed. I was in my late 20's. It literally (ha!) freed me. I'd marvelled at his recall, at his quotations, at his breadth and presumed depth of knowledge, and told him so. His eyes twinkled when he replied. Lovers of words and of ideas and of books, real books, understand each other. We have compassion for the reality that no one can possibly read everything. Any public library holds too much. But personal libraries? Well, even they can become extensive, full of the books one is going to read, rather than those one has already read. (Besides, many of my friends pass on their books once read, and have little interest in collecting them, or showing them off at all.) Admittedly, my books remain a source of pride; they reflect not only my variegated and prodigious interest (pompous as that sounds, ha!), but are symbols of my having surmounted the poverty of my youth, when to have a book, any book, was a rare treasure indeed.

Yes, my iPad and its kindle app allows for all of Shakespeare to be downloaded free. So too for all of Zane Grey. Thousands of classics are free. And hundreds of e-books are a mere dollar or two. But hefting a book, skimming it, and placing it back in a well beloved bookshelf is not an experience kindle gives you. For me Kindle takes away from that treasure hunt that is a meander amongst the shelves of a hole-in-the-wall bookstore, stacked to the rafters with the essential meaning of life. That meaning? That life is about the unexpected! And no matter what, when read, even though a book may seem as though made up of no more than imagination, it is very seldom free. Ha! 

Yes, I still shudder at the thought of the burning of the library at Alexandria! 
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