I once read a quote that I loved, by noted columnist Anna Quindlen: “I would be most content if my children grew up to be the kind of people who think decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves.” My sentiments exactly, for to me writing and reading are synonymous with breathing. I would never want to live in a world without books.
Books are someone’s dreams, and you live several lives while you read them. In fact, great novels are a conversion experience because we come away from them changed. The very best moments are when you come across a thought or a feeling which you had assumed was unique to you. Now you find it set down by a stranger, even someone long dead, and it’s like the author has stretched out his hand and taken yours.
The problem with loving books is that you can’t bear to part with them. For me, it would almost be like giving away my children, but the sheer volume of them (pardon the pun!) becomes a problem. When you’re my age, you not only have contemporary books you want to keep, but all the old favorites that may be dog-eared and battered, but still treasured.
It would be easier for me to part with some of the classics that look prestigious and intellectual on one’s bookshelves, than to give up – say – all the collections of Noel Coward’s plays, the great English poets, and particularly the witty poems and short stories of Dorothy Parker, who was born in 1893 and who went out of fashion long ago.
Most readers of my vintage know her famous saying: “Men never make passes at girls who wear glasses”; her naughtier ones like, “If all the girls attending the Yale prom were laid end to end, I wouldn’t be at all surprised!” but not everyone knows the tender love poems she penned, or the short stories that bring tears to your eyes. No writer has ever been as witty. When a Hollywood doctor told her he didn’t like her kidneys, she replied that she didn’t like his nose.
NOW, WHAT to do with all the books, their sheer physical presence, is a question that always plagues book lovers. Do you alphabetize them, treat them as decorative objects, or live in constant danger of a giant “bookslide”? How we handle our books speaks volumes about who we are.
Although some people use bookshelves as a display for decorative objects, I prefer the old rules. A bookcase is not a decorative element for knick-knacks. The content and arrangement of your shelves are vital clues to your interests and education. They should be full, but not crammed, with spines flush with the edge. They can be arranged by subject – Judaica, poetry, novels, biographies etc. – or by author.
When my study became over-run with books, we built a whole floor-to-ceiling wall of bookshelves in the salon, with glass doors to keep out the dust. I love this built-in unit, which was expensive, but fills me with delight each time I look at it.
Often, when I think of Paradise, I imagine it to be a sort of library, because nothing could be heavenly without books, which are the most wonderful things, second only to human beings. I worry what will happen to my vast collection when I die, because of course my grandchildren and great-grandchildren prefer to read in Hebrew, and my children aren’t bonded to the old books of my childhood.
But I see the love of books continue. Once my grandson David Lavi wrote a school paper on his hero Holden Caulfield of Catcher in the Rye, and even wrote a kind of sequel to it. I love it when one of them opens a conversation with “What are you reading now? I’ve just finished this terrific book…”
Some books take a while to get into, but others grab you by the heartstrings and it’s love at first sentence. The words on the paper are only half the story… the rest is what you bring to it.
Love your books, cherish them, make them meaningful to you. They are friends that will never betray you. You can neglect them for years, but when one day you reopen the pages, all the magic is still there, waiting for you. I love a poem I read by Jane Baskwill, titled “Open a Book” :
Open a book And you will find People and places of every kind; Open a book And you can be Anything you want to be. Open a book And you can share Wondrous worlds you find in there; Open a book And I will too – You read to me And I’ll read to you.
The writer is the author of 14 books. Her latest novel is Searching for Sarah. [email protected]