Tuesday, May 06, 2014

`Sentimental About Books'

My books have outgrown my shelves, again. Like fingernails and nasal hair, books require regular attention to forestall seedy unsightliness. An envelope containing two books of verse arrived on Saturday, mailed by a poet who lives in Utah. Though slender, the volumes could not be shoehorned vertically into my shelves. They join the horizontally arranged spillover on top of the bookcase closest to my desk – of necessity, a goulash of titles, from a new biography of George Herbert, to a field guide to the moths of North America, to Bed of Neuroses by Wolcott Gibbs (a gift from a reader). In my spare time, I’ve been accumulating the collected works of Peter De Vries, and most recently acquired Reuben, Reuben (1964) and Without a Stitch in Time (1972). They too are stacked almost to the ceiling, joining other recent acquisitions such as Huizinga’s The Autumn of the Middle Ages and my third copy of The Sweet Science (1956), A.J. Liebling’s boxing pieces. I like to think I balance bookish gourmandise with enlightened gourmet discernment. That’s rank rationalization, of course, but at least I can say I don’t own a single volume that might cause me embarrassment. 

“…you can’t have too many copies of a minor classic, I always say. (What do you always say?),” asks a fellow trencherman of print, and I always say it’s tough to resist a book you love and want to keep handy in multiple copies to share with appropriate readers. The same sometimes-recovering book glutton writes, “I’m not, that is to say, in the least sentimental about books,” but I am, and sentimental in two specific instances. I embarrassingly over-value books I’ve owned for a long time, mostly because they come equipped with appendices of memory and association you can’t buy at Amazon.com – my Bible, for instance, dated in my mother’s hand Sept. 25, 1960, and the copy of Sterne’s A Sentimental Journey I bought forty-three years ago. My second and more guilt-inducing concession to sentiment is manifested in purchasing more than one edition of favorite books – Boswell’s Life of Johnson, several Liebling titles, The Last Puritan, Lamb’s essays and letters, The Anatomy of Melancholy, and so on. 

Except for a few of the recent acquisitions – the returns aren’t in yet – every book I own is one I might read, reread or consult. Who could resist Michael Faraday's Mental Exercises: An Artisan Essay-Circle in Regency London, The Memoirs of Hector Berlioz or Selected Poems of Frederick Goddard Tuckerman? And I’m overdue to reread Shirley Letwin’s The Gentleman in Trollope: Individuality and Moral Conduct. Not to mention The Spoils of Poynton and Fairfield Porter’s Art in its Own Terms: Selected Criticism 1935-1975, and so on.

1 comment:

marly youmans said...

I enjoyed that--fun to have a peek at your obsession and some of your favorite books!