“Books don’t need to be read to be helpful,” I just read in a book. “Their presence affects us.”
I have a lot of books. I am building a library for them in my loft space. But I will still have books on shelves in the living room, on my bedside table, in my study, in piles on chairs. I live in a house of books. Their presence softens my life. They arouse hope and mystery. They draw me to different rooms in myself. I have books here from childhood, from college, from different houses and friends and lovers, books I bought last week or last year or ten years ago and still haven’t read yet but am interacting with every day.
A few years ago I discovered that I have probably been depressive all my life. I used to cry a lot and sometimes a trap door would open inside and I would fall through it like sand. I relied on books to get me out. If I was teaching a class or having tea with someone I would think of a favorite book or writer and I would get enough energy to go on.
When someone comes into my house and loves my books I know there is something we share that I can never name or see. When people are surprised or start talking about how they got rid of all their books I feel sad. I grew up in a house with few books, but I began to get them anywhere I could. They calmed the craziness outside and inside. I have carried books with me from apartment to apartment, city to city, life to life for 30 years. I am going to add to the library a corner “wing” with a reading nook stuffed with pillows and curtains you can close if you want to be alone with your book. I will leave a flashlight.
I buy books freely. I go to libraries and bookstores often. My favorite bookstore in the city was called Diskover and it was around the corner from my house in Allston, then moved to Brighton. It was run by a Peruvian woman with cats. Diskover overflowed with books. There were sections but nothing was organized. You had to dig. There was nothing I liked more than wandering around fiction, self-help, or poetry, listening to the old jazz LP’s she played and petting her cats. The black fluffy one was called Magic. There were old Dell paperbacks you could hold in the palm of your hand. Contemporary novels. Rare books. Odd books.
Some people might be overwhelmed at Diskover or at my house even, and though I am prey to this feeling often, I can’t locate it around books. I loved driving up to Diskover on a winter night and arriving at its book- and light-filled front window not knowing what I would find. It was my speedball, my rocket ship, my Orient Express, my jam session, my orgasm, my prayer, my cross-country trip in the back of a Greyhound with a bunch of strangers I have yet to meet.
One night years ago I met a hobo in the cafe car of an Amtrak going from Chicago to New York. He was young, like me, mid-20s. We were going home for the holidays. He was reading and he raved about how he loved getting lost inside a novel. How his life became, while reading it, those places, those people, those emotions. Someone else I know said she didn’t read fiction because she didn’t want to have the feelings. In the morning, the hobo left me a note on a piece of sparkly red stationery and envelope, which I still have and think I will put somewhere in the new library or maybe in the reading nook. It left no name or address. It said only: Slip through the cracks and disappear.
I am trying. I want to disappear in books, in life, and now writing my own books, too.