My Library

Last night I watched Mash. Today I tuned into Book Television to watch Word on the Street and there was an older Alan Alda talking about the books he has written. I did not know he had written any books. The urge hit instantly to go to Amazon and order all his books. Loved the title of one – Never Have Your Dog Stuffed.

All of these shows I have been watching avidly for months were first aired back in 2001-2003 so a lot of the books they are reviewing I’ve either read already, own, will never read or missed altogether – see Alda’s books above.

The problem for me in watching these programmes is it feeds into my greed for books. I truly am a bookaholic. I cannot live without thousands of books around me at all times. I have collected books from around age five. I cannot remember learning to read. I once read a book about readers describing their memories of learning to vivid. I was so disappointed in myself that I could not remember. My life memory is spotty at best. Trauma seems to have wiped so much or buried it beyond recall. What I do remember is grinding poverty living with my mother and sister in one room in a dank, spider and rat infested basement in a rooming house in an elegant area of Toronto north of the Annex. All the other children on our street lived in houses owned by their families. They all had their own rooms filled with clothes and toys. They ate three meals a day of a variety never experienced by my sister or myself. They all had two parents. I was more amazed by than envious of these children because it was all so far out of my experience that there was no connection at all to my life. Then, one day I was invited in to play with a solitary child. Hugh Graham grew up to be a member of the Canadian Equestrian Team but at the time he was younger than I, perhaps the same age as my younger sister. His home was a revelation to me. Painted family portraits lined the walls. The dining room was large and beautifully furnished. I seldom ate at a table but here I could see an aspect of life I could barely imagine. Real milk, not from powder, and cookies were offered to me at that beautiful mahogany table. I was a guest and, as such, treated with respect. Another new experience. Hugh had a room of his own filled with toys. So many toys that it was hard to take in. There was a small pool in his backyard and he had a puppy. I wandered like an alien through the rooms of that home.

But, the true, life changing experience of that house was when Hugh’s mother took me into their library. I think I must have already begun my love affair with books before seeing that room. I remember the school I attended taking crocodiles of children down Spadina Avenue to the large children’s library regularly. I remember taking home Curious George. So, when I walked into this, large to me at the time, room with plush carpeting, beautiful, what I later came to know, partner’s desk and leather chairs I fell in love. What was mesmerizing were the bookcases, floor to ceiling, around the entire room filled with books. For the first time in my life I experienced envy and jealousy. I wanted that room for mine. After I absorbed my astonishment that people could have such a wonderful room in their own home, I never wanted to leave.

Mrs. Graham led me to a row of children’s books and offered to let me borrow a book. I think my first choice was Alice in Wonderland. I think the offer was that when I brought back that book I could take another. I do not remember how often I returned. I do remember I destroyed Mrs. Graham’s trust in me and my visits to the house ended abruptly. What remained of that woman’s kindness to the not too clean, hungry child was the gift of books as something to have, keep and reread. I had nothing and needed so much but when asked what I would like as a gift, I asked for a book. That was the beginning. The Bobbsey Twins At The Seashore was my first acquisition. The gifts continued Black Beauty, Heidi, Swiss Family Robinson, Five Little Peppers, Little Women, Jo’s Boys. I still have those books. They and all the others I have added over the years have travelled with me through twenty plus moves and three marriages. The men in my life accepted my profligate spending in bookstores, though preferring my trips through second-hand bookstores. They built me large bookcases in every home.

My life long desire was my own library. I would never achieve that wonderful room filled with hardcover books, mahogany furniture, heavy glass fronted bookcases, deep pile carpet and leather chairs you could curl up in…the library of my memory. A memory that is so vivid in a mind that holds on to nothing else of my life.

When finally achieved a room of my own around age 40, a library, it had pine shelves floor to ceiling covering all walls and spilling into several other rooms of my home. The shelves were filled to overflowing with books, mostly paperbacks with a fair number of hard covers. My rug, chair and desk were inexpensive but likable. I loved that room and spent all the time that I could steal in there. I finally had an income and could indulge my love of books to the point that the pile of unread books grew to an alarming number. I was spending all my disposable income and more on books. My habit was to read a book right to the end no matter the quality or the enjoyment but once I finished I knew whether it was worthy of rereading…a keeper, a possession, a lustful object. If it was not any of those, I gave it away. Every book on my shelves to this day is one I have reread at least once and hope to reread again.

When my last marriage collapsed, I faced the horrible fact that I could not take all of my precious books with me. I had to prune my collection down by almost a third. A number of the unread books were among those I chose to discard.

All my bookcases were removed from the walls and brought to my new, smaller home and put up in all the rooms and restocked with those old friends I could not bear to part with. I mourned the loss of those treasures that I could not find room for but cherish even more those I managed to keep. For the first two years in my new home I was in heaven despite having to go cold turkey on buying books. But I had 800 plus zines of fan fiction in three fandoms and all the books I did bring with me to reread.

After I passed the third year in my apartment, I broke down and bought a Kindle and a Kobo and for the last few years I have been like a drunk who has fallen off the wagon and lost all sense of proportion, responsibility, common sense, or financial prudence. Three hundred books rest in my Kindle and Kobo and, once again, I have fallen behind in reading new books. I find myself rereading old favourites as the new books accumulate. I worry I will not live long enough to read all these new books. I should restrain my buying sprees. I cannot afford to buy books just to stockpile them.

I do have a reason behind my shopping, I am buying books in series by authors I collect. These cosies are ephemeral, which means they might not be available when I get back to reading that author or maybe I won’t bee able to afford them on the day.

However, there is something comforting about surrounding myself with books I can reread and new books available on tap. It is security and fulfilment of the dream of my childhood.

What precipitated this story is the overwhelming desire to go on line and order all of Douglas Coupland’s books and Alan Alda’s books and others. Writing this has been cathartic and the urge to shop has passed.

I live in a building that has a library next to the exercise room filled with books that I could borrow and keep if I so desire. It is a place where I can dispose of any book I buy and read and do not like. It is so hard to walk past those shelves and not bring home more orphans.

I posted pictures of my library on Tumblr because this site is linked. Time to take my dog out for a walk and then get back to one of my current on the go books.