I was particularly struck by the beautiful
reading room in the Suzzallo Library, a/k/a ‘the Soul of the University’. In this vast booklined space, I noticed two
things: all of the hardcovers lacked dust jackets, and none were
catalogued. I dug deeper and found out
that this particular collection houses books that were gifted to the University
and that were duplicate copies of those already in their collections. I tore myself away, but only after taking
photo of a book that caught my eye. I checked Amazon that evening and found
that the most inexpensive copy of The
Frozen Tombs of Siberia by Sergei Rudenko (University of California, 1970) could
be purchased for around eighty dollars.
Recently, I sat in a colleague’s office discussing a project. Behind him was a small bookshelf with a number of nice hardcover volumes, some of which were on topics of interest to me, and some of which I hadn’t seen before. I’ll admit to a certain distraction as we conducted the conversation. Books are catnip – or porn, if you want to be vulgar about it - to me, and if they’re in plain sight, well, I’m going to be looking at them. I’m also gonna hightail it out after the meeting and look up as many of the titles as I can remember to see if they should go on my wishlist. I’m a bibliophile, and that’s what we do.
A few days later, a Twitter post alerted me to the existence of Everett Bleiler’s Checklist of Fantastic Literature, which sports a delightful drawing of a gargoyle-like creature reading with evident relish on the dust jacket. That one’s going for fifty-eight bucks. I won’t likely be buying either this or the Rudenko book anytime soon (my Christmas gift cards have already been exhausted), but I feel happier knowing that they are out there, and I can gaze upon them in my wishlist whenever I like, biding my time until a bargain copy turns up. Such are the cheap thrills of a bibliophile.
At present, my book catalogue shows a total of almost 7,500 volumes in my library. I have a separate spreadsheet showing that I’ve removed almost 1,300 books since I began to tally such things only a few years ago. Although it may appear static, a personal library is an ever-changing beast. Still, it is a comfort to me that I can stand and look at the shelves and recognize individual titles and think about the meaning that each of them has; they are all talismans of a sort, with individual meanings whether they’ve been read or not. (It humbles me to think of how many of these books that I, a constant and lifelong reader, have not yet read and, as my age creeps up on me, I may never have the opportunity to read.) Every one of them is something I’ve picked up in a book store, or found in a catalog or website, considered, and ultimately decided that it was worth bringing home. I’ve had few regrets in these decisions, although I’ve had plenty of regrets for items I’ve passed up.
Over the years, I have honed a response to that absurd question that people ask when they come in and eye the shelves, then turn to me with an accusatory look and spit out “have you read all these books?” I look right back and say, quite truthfully, “I’ve read some of them twice.”
I fully acknowledge that my collecting and reading are likely manifestations of, or compensation for, some psychological defect. So what? A realization I’ve acquired over the years is that we all have some psychological defect, and some of us have several of them. I at least do not suffer chronic alcoholism, or have an idee fixe that people from the Highway Department are trying to steal my garden hose.
I feel an unreasonable tinge of envy when I see a library larger than mine. A recent profile on Twitter showed a library that turned me green, but I had a strange hunch and searched and found what I suspected -the photo in question was one of Umberto Eco’s library. If ever there was anyone on earth who deserved a labyrinthine colossus of a library, it was the venerable Umberto. He also provides a convenient excuse whenever anyone expresses the absurd idea that I have too many books: how could that be, when his collection numbered in the hundreds of thousands! My meager collection pales in comparison!
Thank you, Signore Eco.