Thursday, 24 July 2014

Weeding through the personal library

So I've been going through the personal library in order to do a little downsizing, to get an unwieldy book collection into better order.  A necessary task - one that we've had to do repeatedly as we've had to move a number of times over the years because of school and work - but it does inspire a certain quality of dread. 

After all, books aren't just papers bound with cardboard or cloth, they're memories.  Our experiences with books go beyond the experience of reading the words on the page.  Books resonate with our total reality. When I leaf through, say, Henry Miller's Tropic of Capricorn, I'm not only reminded of the book itself and what I liked and disliked about it, scenes that I remember, the way that it informed my thinking (informed my experience of literature, my experience of other books), but I'm also reminded of what life was like when I was reading it.  

For example, I recall carting Capricorn around with me back and forth across Toronto during a very hot July in the late 1990s, reading it in coffeeshops, on subways, on the futon couch of my apartment in the wee hours of the morning when it was too humid to sleep. These memories might seem unexceptional - and I admit they are unexceptional - but it was a time in my life:  Tropic of Capricorn was woven into my experience of that July and my experience of that July is woven into Tropic of Capricorn.   

As I weed through the book collection, holding the books in my hand one at a time, these kinds of moments and memories come to mind, making it hard to put some books in the "TO GO" pile even if I didn't really like the book--which was the case with Miller's Capricorn.  In short, this is the book-lover's dilemma. 

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