I moved this week. According to Google Maps, I moved a total of 1.5 miles from my old apartment to my new one. I found that it's not merely the displacement that makes a move overwhelming, it's also the energy that goes into cataloging our various stuff, and then attributing value to them. It's enough to make you swear off materialism and make big plans to own less, and keep less. It feeds an anxiety about wastefulness and mental clutter.
However, like most book lovers, my home library is a point of pride and just about the only home decor I bother with. I have acquired a small wooden bookshelf which I refuse to part with, and the books I own are as much curiosities and trinkets as they are pulp and ink.
Junk. I wake up every morning to an alarm on my phone. I proceed to refresh my inbox, and immediately receive and delete about twelve messages from various organizations and companies. I get my Poem-a-Day, read my daily Shelf Awareness and, if I'm lucky, read a longer letter from a friend or a colleague. Before I leave my bed, I've discarded over a dozen messages---a dozen thoughtfully crafted, but faceless letters.
But it takes me hours of rationalizing and a week of material bargaining to attribute worth to my books. I sit with them, remembering the characters, or re-reading the review quotes. Telling myself that I know some of it will stay with me. Telling myself that I might leave this book forever and be okay with it. Telling myself I might never even open this book. I might never read it. I feel I ought to, which is why I bought it, but really, when will I read Goethe's Faust if I haven't yet?
As hard as it is to wrap the harshness of the word "product" around the sweet reality of a book, I do acknowledge that they are products. That I purchased (mostly). That I believe are a reflection upon myself, my personality. Even the books I haven't read. But I own. Why do books feel so unlike items?
The books we have read are a part of us.
The books waiting on our shelves offer us a glimpse of one or several potential selves that we can become. Much like having a carrot and a cheeseburger in your refrigerator. We open the door and see two options for fuel.
Thursday, February 14, 2013
But when I'm asked to select my favorite book... I start tripping over the seeming significance of favorites. I'll say 'Well, what kind of book? Favorite book of poems? Favorite novel?' and even then, I'll say, 'Favorite book of poems that I've read recently? Or are you talking All-Time Favorite?'
An All-Time Favorite is basically a Personal Classic. And conferring that small award is not a conscious decision. We don't finish a great book, switch on some epic orchestral theme and ceremoniously apply a seal or ribbon to it. Our Personal Classics earn that title slowly, in the back of our minds.
One day your friend will be telling you about his relationship problems, and you'll realize how much he is like the character of a book you read a few years ago. You give him advice based on that character. Or a different friend invites you out for drinks, but you tell her you are exhausted, then stay up until 3am reading. Those are your All-Time Favorite books.
Here are a few of mine: The Sea and the Bells by Pablo Neruda, transl. by William O'Daly, a gorgeous bilingual edition; The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera; Man and Camel by Mark Strand; and The Magician's Nephew by C.S. Lewis, because I could re-read the passage about the Woods Between the Worlds every single day and never find it less wonderful.
**Share your favorite book with us in the comments!**
tell all your friends!