I Am Simply a Book Drunkard
I can certainly relate to the words of Louisa May Alcott: "She is too fond of books, and it has turned her brain.” I've spent my life reading books, writing them, and also working with them. My first foray into higher education was to get a college degree in Library and Information Management. I went on to get an undergraduate degree in English literature, and an MA in English, too. Along the way, I waited on tables, worked in a stationery store, among other things, but mainly I worked in bookstores and libraries. Books have been my constant companions, their authors my unmet friends.
The words of L.M. Montgomery are true for me. She says: “I am simply a 'book drunkard.' Books have the same irresistible temptation for me that liquor has for its devotee. I cannot withstand them.”
I would have a lot more money in the bank if I could withstand them, but my life would have been so much poorer.
When doing my study reno, I let many of my books go – the ones I've read but knew I wouldn't read again. It felt strange to pack them up in boxes and send them off for donation. But I have no regrets. As Emerson says, “I cannot remember the books I've read any more than the meals I have eaten; even so, they have made me.”
The books I have kept, the ones I have loved and go on loving, seem to live on my shelves, breathing, humming, and sometimes calling. If you have ever been in a library after closing time, you will hear the hum of the books in the dark and sudden quiet. I never tire of that sensation. And it's something Billy Collins gets at in this next poem:
by Billy Collins
From the heart of this dark, evacuated campus
I can hear the library humming in the night,
a choir of authors murmuring inside their books
along the unlit, alphabetical shelves,
Giovanni Pontano next to Pope, Dumas next to his son,
each one stitched into his own private coat,
together forming a low, gigantic chord of language.
I picture a figure in the act of reading,
shoes on a desk, head tilted into the wind of a book,
a man in two worlds, holding the rope of his tie
as the suicide of lovers saturates a page,
or lighting a cigarette in the middle of a theorem.
He moves from paragraph to paragraph
as if touring a house of endless, paneled rooms.
I hear the voice of my mother reading to me
from a chair facing the bed, books about horses and dogs,
and inside her voice lie other distant sounds,
the horrors of a stable ablaze in the night,
a bark that is moving toward the brink of speech.
I watch myself building bookshelves in college,
walls within walls, as rain soaks New England,
or standing in a bookstore in a trench coat.
I see all of us reading ourselves away from ourselves,
straining in circles of light to find more light
until the line of words becomes a trail of crumbs
that we follow across a page of fresh snow;
when evening is shadowing the forest
and small birds flutter down to consume the crumbs,
we have to listen hard to hear the voices
of the boy and his sister receding into the woods.
– from Sailing Alone Around the Room by Billy Collins
In an excerpt from a piece titled, "reading," by Joanne Burns, she says:
she carried ‘the poetics of space’ round india for three months and it returned to her shelves undamaged at the completion of the journey. every day of those three months she touched it and read some of the titles of its chapters to make sure it was there. and real. chapters called house and universe, nests, shells, intimate immensity, miniatures and, the significance of the hut. she had kept it in a pocket of her bag together with a coloured whistle and an acorn. she now kept this book in the darkness of her reference shelf. and she knew that one day she would have to admit to herself that this was the only book she had need of, that this was the book she would enter the pages of, that this was the book she was going to read
For a long while I was obsessed with the same book, The Poetics of Space by Gaston Bachelard. While I worked on my MA in English, I carried with me everywhere The Stream of Life / Agua Viva by Clarice Lispector.
Have you read If On a Winter's Night a Traveller by Italo Calvino? There's a passage in it that goes like this:
Sections in the bookstore:
- Books You Haven't Read
- Books You Needn't Read
- Books Made for Purposes Other Than Reading
- Books Read Even Before You Open Them Since They Belong to the Category of Books Read Before Being Written
- Books That If You Had More Than One Life You Would Certainly Also Read But Unfortunately Your Days Are Numbered
- Books You Mean to Read But There Are Others You Must Read First
- Books Too Expensive Now and You'll Wait 'Til They're Remaindered
- Books ditto When They Come Out in Paperback
- Books You Can Borrow from Somebody
- Books That Everybody's Read So It's As If You Had Read Them, Too
- Books You've Been Planning to Read for Ages
- Books You've Been Hunting for Years Without Success
- Books Dealing with Something You're Working on at the Moment
- Books You Want to Own So They'll Be Handy Just in Case
- Books You Could Put Aside Maybe to Read This Summer
- Books You Need to Go with Other Books on Your Shelves
- Books That Fill You with Sudden, Inexplicable Curiosity, Not Easily Justified
- Books Read Long Ago Which It's Now Time to Re-read
- Books You've Always Pretended to Have Read and Now It's Time to Sit Down and Really Read Them
That passage still really speaks to me, but it's also one of the books I released back into the world for someone else to read and discover. I still remember the bookstore I bought the book from (one that no longer exists). I remember reading the book in the winter, with the snow falling down. I read most of it in one sitting, because it was like nothing I'd read before. I smile when I think of discovering that book, and I can't imagine not having read it. Many books are like this, I think. They enter you in this particular way, and change you. You carry them with you always. They make you.