I have approximately 2200 books. Perhaps anxiety drives my need to see, to be near, the fixity and purity of the printed page. Things can’t change once stacked, filed, piled or lined up beside me in my work room at home. The ideas stay put. I can examine at my leisure the lay of the land splayed across, within and throughout 2200 volumes worth of rectos and versos.
If all those letters on pages were an anthill, what emergent properties would I see? But they’re not ants, yet the question remains. What to make of myself and my bookish obsession?
Perhaps it would help to break the question down, in terms of subject matter. LibraryThing helps me make the assessment (I haven’t put all my books in there yet). It gives me updates and suggestions based on my profile and preferences. I have tagged my books, but not consistently. I like poetry (I also write and publish poetry), science, cartography, art, politics, and philosophy. I really like novels. But why do I need my own library? How am I going to move all these books when it is time to move?
Sometimes I think I use my books as an anchor. A lot of weight means a lot of trouble to move, and a disincentive to do so.
Psychoanalysis helps shed some light on the situation. A self-analysis reveals childhood events, even traumas, pointing towards my current bookish conundrums.
In my teens I read fantasy novels of the Tolkien and Tolkien-influenced genre. I don’t own those books any more. My current holdings started with the complete published works of J.D. Salinger, and went from there.
One path of bibliographic discovery for me involved finding the library of my absent mother in my father’s basement. They were divorced when I was 12 but I found the books years later, home in Terrace from university in Oklahoma where my mom lives. Thus my love of avant-garde poetry as exemplified by New Directions and Grove publishers.
All of this points towards separation anxiety.
To let go of books would be to let go of fear, to face it in fact.
But books have done so much for me. Sometimes I feel they have literally saved my life, repeatedly. Public libraries provide a place to be, to be accepted, to warm up physically and in the glow of words during unemployed weeks when I didn’t want to feel stuck in the house. Prince George, Prince Rupert, Terrace, Kingston, Montreal, Victoria, I know the public libraries of those cities well.
But I always get attached to their books. So if there’s a book I like a lot, and check out repeatedly, 3 or 4 or 10 times or more, eventually I get my own copy. Getting work and an internet connection in the late nineties marked a spike in my personal holdings. I thank Amazon and gainful employment for my very own copy of Proust’s great diversion and distraction also known as The Remembrance of Things Past. A worthy investment in my own future, when I found myself employed as a fisheries ‘observer’ on a remote BC coast, with no more than one fishing boat a week gracing my shores. Thus Proust, for me, was born.
Now it is snowballing. I consider so many books essential, it is hard to keep up.
20 years, 2200 books. That’s an average of 110 books per year.
Books make me feel empowered.
Books got me my PhD.
No, books didn’t do those things. I did.