Lots of posts on my feeds this week about personal libraries and people's relationships with them. Books as treasured physical objects. Books as sources of pressure—to have read enough, and the right ones, and the ones everybody else is reading so you can join the right conversations. Books as comfort, clutter, decor, identity.
I got nuffin profound to say about any of it. But minoanmiss
prompted me to ruminate, so I will admit that I like owning books; I wish I had room for more of them, and a bigger budget for beautiful hardcovers. I have an active relationship with my small, apartment-dweller's collection that ebooks can't replicate: they're off my shelves all the time, rummaged through, marked up, declaimed from on random weeknights while my housemate is trying to make mac and cheese. ("I CANNOT PRAISE A FUGITIVE AND CLOISTERED VIRTUE...YOU'RE GOING TO ADD EXTRA CHEDDAR TO THAT, RIGHT?") My couch nest is usually surrounded by little inuksuk-like piles, half the public library's, half mine.
I have Kate Beaton's "Dude Watching" comic printed out and stuffed in the dust jacket of my copy of Jane Eyre
. Maya's "Coda to an Epilogue" is tucked next to Harry Potter
. Next to that
is a drawing by the 12-year-old reluctant reader who actually got excited to write a five-paragraph persuasive essay when I told her it could be about Snape, because whatever those books' literary merit, their pedagogical impact was life-changing. An Economist
article on Christopher Fry is folded up inside The Lady's Not for Burning
, which also has all the shorthand lighting cues from the production I directed in college. Green Grass, Running Water
is bristling with bookmarks. The Lord of the Rings
I inherited is full of my mother's etymology notes penciled in the margins. Long Hidden
houses torn-out notebook pages from a Readercon panel full of frantically scribbled quotes with hearts around them. When I say it's a personal library, I do mean personal. In use
, in the same way the mixing bowls in my kitchen cabinet are in use.
For sure, reading goes in cycles. Right now I'm doing a lot of reading, daydreaming, and editing for friends. By summer I'll most likely have swung around to writing again, and the reading will taper off. But maybe in fall disgruntled_owl
will again get wistful about the Pizza Hut-sponsored reading challenge many of us in North America participated in as kids, and lure her friends into logging our page counts and filling in bingo squares and jockeying for pizza and homemade cocoa mixes. (I have the awesomest friends.) Grad school broke me (mostly) of the fear of reading inadequately, and fandom broke me of the impulse to rank my pastimes in order of least to most admirable, but the sheer nostalgic silly fun of reading books for prizes, and books outside one's usual sights, and then pithily reviewing them on the shared spreadsheet, was shockingly motivating. We had such good conversations at our wrap-up party.
I guess this post (which is about to trail off unpithily, so I can go make my breakfast) is a meditation about not reading in a vacuum, or at any rate a Romantic solitude like a girl in a novel who is not like other girls, which also explains why I latched onto fandom so hard twenty-whatever years ago. I haven't read Kondo, so I don't know her questions except for the one about joy, which seems sound. But I think if I were to cull my books, I would start by holding each in my hand and asking, "Am I still having a conversation with you?" And if I weren't, I would drop it off at a shop where it could go and speak to somebody else.