Monday, October 24, 2005


All the talk about books in the comments section of the post below has me thinking a bit more about my library. Tubbs quite rightly chided me about even thinking about getting rid of books. So, thought I'd write this post as penance.

Poeisia commented that books are like friends and I have to say that's very true. When I first left home to go to college and was feeling homesick, an afternoon in the library made me feel a lot better. And now that I spend a lot of time in bed, looking up at the long shelves snaking their way around the ceiling and down the walls makes me feel less lonely because those familiar novels, plays, historical monographs, and theological treatises are here along with me.

A lot of the books I have I don't remember exactly where I got them. Others, of course, I do. An old bookstore in West Salem. Gifts from friends. Thrift stores. Open houses at the Middle East Studies Center.

Many, many of them are from Powells Books, either at their store or during their annual Square Deal Sale when they fill up Pioneer Courthouse Square with overstocks and books they otherwise can't seem to get rid of. It takes hours to go through the tables winding their way along the etched red bricks. The store, of course, takes even longer. Indeed, though I've lived between 5 and 20 minutes away depending on whether you take the streetcar or walk for most of my adult life, I don't think I've actually ever been through every aisle of the store, though I believe I have been in every room. It's really that vast. But I've certainly spent hundreds of hours there. Sitting on the floor or standing with my head crooked to one side as I skim the names. My godfather, a cynical guy from the East Coast now stuck on the wrong coast in Seattle for grad school, thought I was totally overhyping Powells. Until he stepped inside. After a few hours he admitted he was overwhelmed. Our favorite thing to do when he comes to town is to head to the Middle East section at Powells and sneer or salivate at what they've got.

And now with the Internet, I've reached new heights in book collecting. Books that I've had to constantly request through Inter-library loan and finally spend money and hours at a copy machine because they've been out of print so long I'm now finding through the far reaches of the Web. It's made me smugger than ever of my library. Especially I when wrote a book review of John Joseph's, Muslim-Christian Relations and Inter-Christian Rivalries in the Middle East: The Case of the Jacobites in an Age of Transition (Albany: SUNY, 1983) for a professor, who upon reading it said, "we should get this book for our library" to which I responded cheekily, "I own it."

To those who say that the public library is a lot cheaper, I say that they've never seen my overdue fines. I've probably built a wing of our university library with my tardiness and as the Internet makes book buying so easy and cheap, I've decided that it's far more economical to just buy the books I need or will want to read eventually rather than pay for my forgetfulness. I mean, then I get to actually keep them.

As fate would have it, the movie that I popped in the DVD player tonight from Netflix was a book about bibliophiles, 84 Charing Cross Road. The main character is a New York screenwriter, Helene Hanff, who also has a particular taste for hardbound English literature. But, being a writer, she's not particularly wealthy and has a hard time finding affordable editions. Upon finding an ad for a British bookstore, Marks & Co., she writes hoping that they might have what she's looking for at reasonable prices. The manager of the store, Frank Doel, responds with a polite letter, a few of the books she requested, and an invoice. Thus begins a 20 year correspondence among Hanff, Doel and the staff at Marks & Co. in which Hanff is the witty, outspoken New Yorker and Doel the reserved, but polite Englishman. It's a great movie regardless of whether you like books or not. Subtle and sweet but not at all sappy. However, if you're a book lover, this movie has you thinking about that wonderful smell of books. That soft touch of leather bound. The slight sparkle of gilded edges. It totally made me think of you, Sylvia.

It also made me miss England. Reminded me of that little bookshop near the British Museum that specialized (or should I write specialised?) in books on the Middle East (or the Orient as their sign said). A. practically had to drag me out of there by my ear if we were ever going to leave. And speaking of my British boyfriend, my favorite line in the movie is where Hanff is chatting with her friend and her friend's British boyfriend. He says something about raspberries, but being a good Brit pronounces it rahspberry. "Raaahhhhspberry," Hanff says. "Can you believe a whole country of people pronounce it like that?" LOL Lord knows A. and I giggle at the way each other pronounces things. Like herbs vs. herbs-with-an-h. Or fillet vs. FILit. Or drawing vs. drawring. Then there are their weird-ass names for things. Instead of Graham crackers, they have "digestive biscuits." Does that not just sound like a cookie made of Maalox?

So, at any rate, I gave my dad another twenty bucks tonight to get some more packing tape, as well as some Fix-all to fix the walls as the brackets for the shelves stuck to the walls when they were screwed in and after being extracted, took hunks of plaster with them. And this time next week we'll be figuring out how to fit shelving for some 1100 books or so into an even smaller studio. Cause, ya know, while I've seen lots of friends come and go over the years, these ones are still hanging around.


Anonymous said...

Awwww! Thanks for thinking of me. I'll have to check that movie out. Great post. I've ordered from Powell's but haven't been so fortunate as to go there in the flesh. I'll have to put it on my list of pilgrimages to make if/when I get well.

TC said...

It's nice to know that someone else out there is this book-obsessed (thought it's also slightly worrisome).

My life's dream: To open a bookstore in the French Quarter. I want to be one of those creepy-old-lady bookshop owners who knows every book in the store, exactly where to find it, and how to get any book that's not there.
When I was 9 I had a crush on a bookstore owner like that: a hunched over 75-year-old man who'd moved to New Orleans from Warsaw. I still remember him fondly.

ahhhhh, books.

Michelle said...

Oh, couldn't help but think of you, dear. And Powells is well worth the pilgrimage if you're a book lover. :)

Michelle said...

LOL -- yes, but if there weren't us book-obsessed people out there, those poor books wouldn't get written and published and find good homes like ours. :)

Mmmm...that sounds like a great life's ambition. Mine is to amass this amazingly fabulous library and then donate it to some college or something. And if I ever came into money (highly unlikely, but hey, this is America and we all believe we're pre-rich), I've already got the rough sketches of what I want my library to look like. With a fireplace, and bay windows, and a loft where I'd have the children's library of kids books I have from when I was a kid or have accumulated at those Square Deal sales.

Gawd my life is pathetic. LOL

TC said...

Don't feel too pathetic.

If Oprah hadn't become ruler of the world, she'd have done the same thing.

Michelle said...

Ah Oprah... Oh to suck at her multimedia teat...