Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Book Lust

Sandra Parshall

At a recent book signing, I met a couple who live in a four-room apartment with 8,000 books.

I cannot tell you how deeply I envy them. Our home is bigger than theirs, and we don’t have 8,000 books. I’ll bet we don’t have more than 3,000. But it’s not from lack of trying -- or buying, I should say. I can’t go into a bookstore without wanting to own every volume in it. What in this world is more wondrous, magical, intriguing, alluring than a book? An entire world contained between two covers!

It’s not the content alone that I love. I enjoy the feel of a book in my hands, I admire a sturdy spine, I appreciate an attractive cover and an elegant design. I’m a type junky and always check to see whether the book includes a note about the type. I’m disappointed when I don’t find that information. (My favorite typeface, at least for the moment, is Sabon, which is used in Stephen Booth’s British editions.)

Once I own a book, I never want to let it go. When we moved, about 15 years ago, from one Washington, DC suburb to another, we decided it was a good time to thin our book collection. We went through them all and filled box after box to donate to the Arlington County Central Library’s used book room. As soon as they were gone, I began to suffer the most agonizing remorse. How could I have them go? How could I live without them? For a long time after we moved to the county next door, I made regular trips to the Arlington Library, where -- yes -- I gradually bought back a fair number of the books we had donated. They’re mine. They belong at home with me, not with strangers.

I’m constantly adding new ones, but that doesn’t mean I’ll dump the old ones to make room. We have a Modern Library edition of The Grapes of Wrath with a $1.65 price on the cover. We have one of the early editions of To Kill a Mockingbird, which I consider the greatest American novel ever written. We have a 1910 edition of David Balfour by Robert Louis Stevenson and a copy of Middlemarch that is so old the pages have turned dark brown and I'm almost afraid to handle it.

I’ll admit that I never look inside most books after I’ve read them. I just like to see them on the shelf. A few, though, call me back again and again. Isak Dinesen’s Out of Africa and Shadows on the Grass still enthrall me after many readings, and make me homesick for a romantic, idealized East Africa that I’ve never seen and which, in truth, probably never existed. It doesn’t have to be real; I can go there anytime I want to by opening a book. I also reread passages from Thomas H. Cook’s psychological suspense novels when I feel as if I’ve forgotten how to write (a dismayingly frequent occurrence). Cook shows me the way. Dinesen’s memoirs, plus To Kill a Mockingbird and one or two of Cook’s novels, are the books I never want to be without.

Occasionally I get the notion that I should reduce the glut of books in our house. But how to do it with minimal trauma? I could try the method I once heard Donna Andrews describe. She has plastic bins in her garage where she places books she’s decided to give away. This gets them out of the house proper without the agony of a sudden, final parting. They’re still there in the garage if she changes her mind. When she’s used to the idea of parting with them, they’re finally donated. Yes, I could try this approach. But I know myself too well. Regardless of where I donated books, if they remained accessible to me I might try to get them back before long, even if I had to pay for them.

But enough about my passion for books. Let’s talk about yours.

How many books do you own?

How many have you bought in the last year?

What is the oldest book you own?

What is the one book you will never part with?

Which book do you reread (in part or in full) most often?

How many books do you own but have never read?

How many books do you give away in an average year?

Do you ask friends and family to buy you books as gifts? Do they -- or do they insist on giving you “something more personal”? (And don’t you just hate that?)

6 comments:

Lorraine Bartlett said...

How many books do you own?
Thousands. At least 2-4000.

How many have you bought in the last year?
Let's just say Barnes & Noble should never have let me have that 10% off card.

Which book do you reread (in part or in full) most often?
I've got a couple: "House of Many Shadows" by Barbara Michaels (just finishing it up now as a matter of fact), and "The Egg And I" by Betty MacDonald.

How many books do you own but have never read?
Possibly a hundred or more. But that doesn't mean I won't EVER read them.

How many books do you give away in an average year?
Probably none.

Do you ask friends and family to buy you books as gifts?
Of course!

Bill Crider said...

I have no idea how many books I own. Thousands would be my closest guess. I have to rent two air-conditioned storage rooms (big ones) for the overflow. And yet I keep buying books, probably three or four a week. At least.

Sandra Parshall said...

Wow. A man who rents space to house his books -- that touches my very soul!

Marlyn said...

I also have no idea how many books I (or my family) own. We have a six-bedroom house, with books in every room. Including the bathrooms.

I often make stacks of books to donate to the library...and they end up still being stacks of books monts later.

caryn said...

Books do I own?
Probably a couple of thousand, but who knows?
Buy in a year?
WAY too many!Everytime I see a review on DL or meet a new author I end up buying the book, plus I have a whole lot of authors I buy every book they come out with-in hard cover if I can get it signed.
Reread?
T Kill a MockingbirdMockingbird, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and Where the Read Fern Grows. And virtually all of Dorothy Sayers' and Agatha Christie's.
Not read yet?
Hundreds, but I will get to them all eventually-at least that's what I keep telling my husband.
Giveaways?
I give books as gifts for everything so probably 25 in a year. I donate all of our fictional read paperbacks and unsigned hardcovers to the library resale shelves.

Ask for Books?
Yes, but usually I end up with gift cards because no one knows what I already have.

Lonnie Cruse said...

How many books do you own?

Hmmm, probably 500 or more. Oh, yes, certainly more. I forgot about the shed.

How many have you bought in the last year?

100 at least.

What is the oldest book you own?

I have a couple that are over 100 years old but still in good condition, one a children's book the other is religious. I also have several 30's and 40's mysteries.

What is the one book you will never part with?

My old hardback copy of Shirley Jackson's WE HAVE ALWAYS LIVED IN THE CASTLE, my Tasha Tudor Fairy Tale book that I received in the 50's, and the first hardback copy I received of my own mystery, MURDER IN METROPOLIS.

Which book do you reread (in part or in full) most often?

I seldom re-read books because there are soooo many on my TBR pile that I haven't gotten to, but Agatha Christie would be tops, followed by self-help books or books on writing.

How many books do you own but have never read?

Let's don't go there, please. Too embarrassing. IF I live long enough...

How many books do you give away in an average year?

20-30 to the Mid-TN chapter of SINC for the annual book auction which raises money for our chapter. Of course I BID on that many or more to bring home, sigh.

Do you ask friends and family to buy you books as gifts? Do they -- or do they insist on giving you “something more personal”? (And don’t you just hate that?)

My folks have seen my bookcases (plural) so they know how much I love a gift certificate to a book store so I can choose what I want. I do sometimes buy DVD's with the certificate, but mostly books.