Tuesday, April 03, 2007

a room without books is like a body without a soul - cicero

Half of my clothes are still packed and my den is exploding with old 2000 campaign t-shirts and notebooks from college. My TV is sitting on the floor and the washer is officially dead, soon to be carted away by the good people of Sears Silver Spring.

But I am completely and totally at home because my bookshelves are built and my books are unpacked.

You may have thought I was joking about the seventeen boxes of books. I wasn't. This is maybe a third of them:

It's a little ridiculous, I know. But it can't be helped. These books are like old friends, and displayed on these shelves with photos and totchkes, they're practically telling my autobiography. There's the script of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead that was a present from Tim, the scruffily cute guy I worked with at an independent bookstore the summer before college. My father's copy of Atlas Shrugged that he gave me for my 21st birthday. The ratty paperback Vanity Fair I read on trains through Italy and Austria.

The four Wallace Stegner books that Jim at Capitol Hill Books disgustedly shoved into my arms when I confessed to him, red-faced, that I'd never read any Stegner. The dog-eared copy of High Fidelity I keep prominently displayed as a reminder that I need to be done with dating men who say things like "How can you like Art Garfunkel and Solomon Burke? It's like saying you support the Israelis and the Palestinians!" All six Harry Potters and the collected works of both David Sedaris and David Ives.

Some people think books are nothing more than the sum of their parts-- paper, glue, ink-- and some people think that they are mere conduits for the stories they contain. I fall somewhere in the middle because to me a tangible book is inextricably linked with my memory of acquiring it and/or reading it. It's not that I don't love the stories being told, mostly because I'm ruthless both with what I read and what I keep in my home, but it's more than that. I love being able to get lost in nostalgia just by looking at my bookshelf, swept away in recollections of where I was and what I was doing when I first encountered that story.

Loving reading and loving books are two linked but very distinct traits. If I were a true literary snob I would hide my guilty pleasure literature behind copies of The Republic and the Herodotus and Thucydides that was the bane of my undergrad historiography seminar but which makes me look all super-academic and erudite, like a person who tosses out bon mots like sneezes and can tell a fifty dollar bottle of wine from a two hundred dollar bottle of wine. I am not that person. I am a person with two copies of Bridget Jones' Diary (both presents from girlfriends, so it's not like I could give one away!) and the tattered trade paperback edition of Circle of Friends that I picked up in Dublin and read in one afternoon lolling on St. Stephen's Green, nursing a vicious St. Patricks' Day hangover.

A space always feels temporary, even a little strange and scary, until I have my books unpacked and displayed. I can unpack my clothes and fill the kitchen cabinets and hang pictures but it's not until I can look up and let my eyes wander along the cracked spines and the pristine jackets alike that I know I am at home.


Jo said...

Beautifully said and so true. A book is a friend and companion no matter what mood you're in. If my apartment was burning or there was a disaster and I had to run away, I'd take a stack of books.

Kristin said...

Yet another reason to like you... Though, I have to admit, I tend to weed out the guilty pleasures - I pass them along or give them to my brother to sell. Anne Rice doesn't need to take up precious shelf space.

Lesser Being of Leisure said...

I can totally relate. Totally. I've gotten "rid of" so many things over the last couple of years, and the books are always the hardest (and what I end up keeping more often than not :).

Clothes, who needs em' ;)

Maya said...

Exactly! After Kultura closed last year, my new used bookstore haven is the Friends of the Library store in the netherregions of Rockville.
Each trip I make there I come away with about fourteen books for around $30 -- Kazuo Ishiguro, Beasts of No Nation, Roth, Rohinton Mistry, etc. :) Congrats on your new place too!

The View from Dupont said...

mm... the best feeling in the world (possibly sad to admit, but oh well) was when the boy and I combined our books. It was as if "omgwemovedintogether" finally hit at that moment :)

Patricia said...

So very true. I think my books were the first things I unpacked when I first moved to DC; I still have boxes of books at my parents that will have to wait until I have more space.

You can tell a lot about a person by the books on their shelves.