upon observing books

I don’t have a Friday Forgotten Book today, I’ve been too busy to either read or write any reviews, but I do have these thoughts. I related this in an email to a good friend earlier today, and upon glancing over it again I thought it might, slightly edited, make a post here.

Upon Observing Books

I was sitting in a chair in my Study late yesterday afternoon. Because my eyes were tired, I’d taken off my glasses, and I wasn’t engaged in any task, just resting for a few moments. I looked at the wall across from me, the main wall of books in the room, and without the ability to read titles the whole thing was suddenly a large pattern, colors, shapes, most books upright, some stacked, even a few leaning to one side where a gap waited to be filled. The light had a golden cast to it and that wall of books was quite beautiful. I looked at it for a long time.

A feeling of rightness came over me while I looked at those books, living on my shelves.

Books have a kind of life, I have no doubt of it – I felt like a caretaker, a little bit of a worshiper, a believer in those books, and what they represented: the tremendous work of the author in writing them, the confidence of the publisher who bought them, the effort of the editors and proofreaders in honing them, the skill of those who combine paper, glue and ink to give them form, the inspiration of the artist who created the covers. So much time and effort for even the most insignificant of them, if such can be said of any book.

Each of them, those specific volumes, had found their way to me and rested there on those shelves. Strange thoughts came to me then: I wonder if they are glad to have me as their owner? I wonder if they are satisfied with their companions on the shelves? Somehow I think the answer is “yes”.

Anyone who says there’s no magic in the world hasn’t seen and felt what I did then.

About Richard Robinson

Enjoying life in Portland, OR
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22 Responses to upon observing books

  1. Bill Crider says:

    Thanks for this, Rick. Great post.

  2. Scott Cupp says:

    Rick – This is precisely how I feel. and, frequently, when I see a picture with a bookcase in it, I try to distinguish the various titles based on their shape and general color. I love doing that and seeing if someone is a secret Danielle Steele reader.

  3. Evan Lewis says:

    Books do make a sort of magical wallpaper.

  4. Carl V. says:

    An absolutely magical post Richard. Your love affair with your books echoes my own. I have frequently felt what you describe and it is a truly wonderful feeling. Several times a week when I’m getting ready for work I’ll take my shoes into my bedroom to put on just so that I can sit on my bed and catch a look at my bedroom bookshelf which is one of my pride and joys. It has some real treasures on it and I love gazing at it. Your post reminds me so much of this quote that I got out of The Man Who Loved Books Too Much. I am wanting badly to find a copy of the book that it references:

    “‘Too few people seem to realize that books have feelings,’ wrote collector Eugene Field, who wrote The Love Affairs of a Bibliomaniac in 1896. ‘But if I know one thing better than another I know this, that my books know me and love me. When of a morning I awaken I cast my eyes about my room to see how fare my beloved treasures, and as I cry cheerily to them, “Good day to you, sweet friends!” how lovingly they beam upon me, and how glad they are that my repose has been unbroken’.”

  5. Love the post. I feel the same way and I always get a thrill when a book I ordered arrives and i’m peeling back the wrappings covering it, wondering which one it might be.

    I’ve told people of the joy of prowling the aisles of a book store just looking, not sure what you’re looking for, not knowing you want it until you make that find and realize, “This is what I was looking for!” No greater joy, except maybe the actual reading, as finding that special treasure you didn’t know even existed.

    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard folks say, “I haven’t read a book since I got out of school,” with an almost prideful sound in their voices.

    Those folks don’t know what joy they are missing.

  6. Richard says:

    Scott – ha! My mother loved to read Steele, but I never acquired the habit. I love to look at other people’s books too, wether in person or in a photo. I thought of putting in a picture of the wall I was looking at, but didn’t want to detract from my own glorious prose. Heh.

  7. Richard says:

    Evan – no “sort of” about it, Evan, there’s little better on a wall than books.

    Carl – Thanks for your kind words. It was a bit of a magical moment. That’s a great quote, but if the book was published in 1896 it might be difficult to find these days!

  8. Richard says:

    Randy – I love that moment of acquiring, and I love the reading too. But a wall of books is also beautiful in and of itself, and I’m glad we agree on that. I’m always a bit aghast when I hear someone say something like that. I have worked with people who only read magazines and the newspaper and sometimes books to their children. How sad!

  9. Carl V. says:

    I’m sure its probably impossible to find. I can get it through interlibrary loan. I’ve done it once before but then couldn’t get to it in the one week I was able to keep it out. I will try again.

  10. Patti Abbott says:

    Which calls into question, how will Kindle and Ipad fit into this equation? If your only memory of reading a book is dependent on your “memory” and not also on your ability to find it among your things, will you remember it as fondly? Will it occupy as much a place in your life? A few years ago, I read an article by a guy who had whittled his collection down to a bookshelf worth. What was the point?

  11. I know when I go the iPad or Kindle route, I will never have anything like the mystical experience that you had with your books, Rick. Apples and oranges.

  12. Todd Mason says:

    I have far too many books and magazines for convenience’s sake. But it’s not a matter of convenience, except as a matter of potentially being able to read what I want of my stash when I (too often, finally) can…

  13. Richard R. says:

    Nothing like what I saw and felt yesterday afternoon is part of the e-reader experience, I’m sure. With an e-reader, it’s data absorption, pure and simple. Yes, there is a tactile aspect, but that’s about the e-reader, not the book or it’s contents. Lifting, opening, smelling, turning the pages of a book are distinct actions involving the senses all apart from the words on the page.

    I understand that an e-reader is a tool but all a person takes away from the use of it is what was read. That’s not a bad thing, it’s wonderful to be able to have and use such a device, but it mustn’t be confused with the experience of reading a physical book.

  14. Richard says:

    Patti – regarding the fellow who whittled his collection of books to a single bookcase, the only point I can imagine is that he no longer wanted the books. That would be a sad thing.

  15. Patti Abbott says:

    He decided he could get the rest at libraries. I wonder if he is still so sure of that given Bill Crider’s recent experience of losing the library in his town.

  16. laurie powers says:

    Everyone has already discussed what I felt when I first read your essay, Rick. I feel that same way about books – and many of the books in my collection have not been read yet. But that’s okay, because the physical appearance of a book is a beautiful thing.

  17. Love this post.

  18. Barbara says:

    My husband loves his tools (even those he never uses) and I love my books. That was the only way I could make him understand my insane (he thought) fixation on owning books. Then he built me two walls of bookshelves for my home office and said, “You’ll never fill those.” Hah!

  19. Richard says:

    Janet – thank you, I liked it enough to put it on the last page of my ‘zine that goes in the mail tomorrow.

  20. Richard says:

    Barbara – I love both my tools and my books! My Wife loves her Bernina sewing machine, her fabric and quilt making. Perhaps one of the reasons she doesn’t criticize me having books all over is that she has fabric all over, in bins, on shelves, etc. I don’t mind, I love the color and pattern, and we sometimes work together on quilts, I do some of the design, she does the piecing.

    As for never filling up those two walls of bookshelves… it’s a great start! Non book people can’t understand.

  21. Chris says:

    I love looking at the books on my shelves as well. As for keeping them, I do my best to keep my “collection” culled to about the equivalent of two bookshelves. It’s a matter of space, and knowing in a couple years we will be in a much smaller house. The ones I save are the ones I really loved, and that I think I might read again, or that I will use as reference.

    I’ve told my wife more than once, and she agrees, that I care more about the books on my shelf and what they say about me than I do by what car is sitting in my driveway!

  22. Richard says:

    Ha! I agree, Chris, though I do like and care about cars, I have a nice one that’s 11 years old and works just fine for me. As for downsizing, we’d like to upsize form this 2 bedroom (one of which is the office-Study-library-computer room) to a three or four bedroom so we could have space for books and quilting and have a guest bedroom.

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