Yesterday I spied a living room of books in my neighbor’s house. This neighbor and I are becoming friends. She is a professor of linguistics, has three lovely daughters, and likes writing. We had just made a date to take a walk when I drove past and saw all their books in the window. You know how it is: soft gold lighting, blonde wooden shelves, the multicolored spines.
Remarking on this later with family, T’s 15 year-old son said, “I like books,” gently stressing “I” and leaving an unspoken question in the air.
What is the difference between liking books and having a room full of books?
I found my answer this morning when driving to the hairdresser’s.
Well, I would have told him had he asked, think about how heavy books are, and how you have to carry them from house to house when you move, or room to room if you redecorate. You constantly have to organize them. They get lost. They go out of print. They become unpopular. Sometimes you tote one around with you because there’s one sentence you like on page 62, or because someone mysteriously important to you–you don’t know why or who anymore, you met briefly and without words–gave it to you. Or perhaps someone you do know, too well, gave it to you and you hate the book but love the person. Or vice versa. Books fade and tear. Their pages yellow and curl. Heat destroys them, water, too. Carrying them is always a problem, and the issue of ‘which ones’, like which ones to take on vacation, or on that trip to the dentist, or down to Boston overnight. Or hell, to the picnic table with your morning coffee.
The difference between liking books and having a roomful of them, I would have told him, is the difference between liking the girl and marrying her.
(Book photo from Diskover Bookstore, Brighton, MA (1981-2012). A place where I found much by getting lost.)