It Bears Repeating

I am in the process of reading The Biographical Dictionary of Film, The Encyclopedia of Celtic Mythology and Folklore, and H.L. Mencken’s Collection of Quotations. I am also finishing my collection of Dresden books by Jim Butcher. I am up to Ghost Story which I started but was curious about something so I dipped into Cold Days and got caught up and read that one till late last night. This morning instead of going back to Ghost Story (I do like to read my books in chronological order for the flavour of the entire series) or even to Cold Days, I picked up ‘A Book of One’s Own – People and Their Diaries’ and started reading. Practically from the first page I had the overwhelming urge to underline things that spoke to me but I resisted. Finally I could stand it no longer and I got out a notepad and wrote a journal entry of my own. It was not about keeping a journal or a diary …though I do that. It was about books. I have to transcribe it because I hand wrote it. It needs a title.

In a large 3″ three ring binder, I have printed pages from a very old, DOS library program. In it was listed every book I ever read up till 1999. I am 70 years old and from the age of ten I have been keeping notebooks in which I put every book as I read it. I have been more faithful to this list than to any journal, diary or person in my life. I think it started when I discovered my love of reading, my desire to possess books, that library books have to be returned and I was poor and likely to remain that way (I was never an optimistic person and was proven right in the long run) and would never be able to afford a library like the one I was introduced to at eight years old in Hughie Graham’s home on Walmer Road in Toronto. It, in my memory, was a large room, slightly dark (the windows had heavy damask curtains), with a plush carpet, leather chairs, a large dark wood desk that matched the floor to ceiling bookcases that lined every wall except for the spaces for windows. The shelves were full but not colourfully. The books were orderly, similar in size, colour binding and all hardcovers. Hughie’s mother showed me this room filled with books, in a private residence, not long after a Huron Public School teacher had taken me, along with a crocodile of other children, on a long walk down Spadina to the huge Toronto Children’s Library where I had been introduced to the concept of borrowing books. I remember Curious George and Babar. I loved the day out of the classroom because I hated school and feared it and every day was filled with anxiety. I loved the experience of wandering rooms, surrounded by colourful covers, alone, solitary, choosing. I clutched my choices all the way home to the single, dank, spider and rat infested room in a dirty basement that I shared with my mother and my sister. We lived in poverty at the bottom of a rooming house on a street filled with homes owned by the families that lived in them. Houses filled with possessions that I could not even dream of ever having. So far away that I did not even have the concept of envy. For the first time I experienced reading as an escape from one sad place to one filled with so much more. I was hooked. In those days children had more freedom and I walked to the library alone every time I finished the books I was allowed to take out by individual librarians. The day Mrs. Graham introduced me to the concept of owning, collecting, having all these doors to somewhere else within my grasp and always at hand, was the day I knew my life long wish would be to have a library of my own. She let me borrow from the one long shelf at the bottom of one bookcase that contained children’s books, the only colourful section in the room. It was Alice in Wonderland. As a child, I never had enough to eat, my clothes were second hand, I had few toys but my grandmother one day asked what I wanted for my birthday and I said I wanted a book. That year, instead of underwear and socks or the shoes I needed, I received my first book. It was The Bobbsey Twins At The Sea Shore. In the years to follow, I received Polly French, Heidi, Black Beauty, The Brothers Grimm, Swiss Family Robinson, Five Little Pennies, Little Women, Little Men and Jo’s Boys..all plain but hardcover books. I was now on my way. I still headed south on Spadina every weekend to bring home as many books as I could convince the librarian to let me carry and my life pattern was being carved in stone. Books became my friends and companions, my substitute for contact with the people around me. I did not know the meaning of the word introvert and others convinced me I was weird. I did not need anything or anyone ever again as badly as I always needed my next book. I did all the normal things but always felt less engaged than those around me and always desperate to get back to the current book. From that home on Walmer, where I lived from ages 8 to 12, I have moved twenty times and each time the only truly important thing that went with me was my pile of books. Money and the lack of it meant that I bought cheap, second hand paperbacks but I was not a collector for appearance or value or prestige; I was a collector for content. Being possessive of what I read and hoping always to revisit or somehow obtain again those I had to return to the library, I wrote down every book I read in tiny, lined, black notebooks. Like Scrooge swimming in his vault, I would read over the list and see my progression. I reread books and in the beginning put asterisks beside the titles in the notebooks. I never put the date read (there was no room) and soon there was not enough room for extra asterisks either. Time came when I kept journals and diaries like this and each day I wrote what book I was reading. I never wrote precis or reviews and seldom commented on content or how I felt about the book. If I liked it, I wanted to own it so I could reread it. If I didn’t like it a note was put in the journal that the book was to be given away. Time came when there was enough money to buy as many cheap paperbacks as my heart desired and I no longer frequented the library. Libraries had become a place of stress… spoiled for choice and none of them keepers. Books stores were easier, I could feed my addiction and just walking out knowing I could keep what I held made bookstores less stressful. My obsession with owning books grew. My pattern had become established. I got a book…from the library or purchased and I read it. It was written in the notebook. If I loved it and wanted to reread it…I searched for a copy to buy if it was a library book…not always succeeding…this was fifty years before the internet brought me AbeBooks and access to world wide Second Hand Book stores at my finger tips. If a book was not going to be reread (and I always knew almost instantly) I compulsively read it to the end, put it in my notebook and returned it to the library or gave away my copy. I had learned after each move of my growing collection not to carry forward unloved books simply because I had them. This meant sometimes I made a mistake reading something too soon to appreciate it and having to buy it again later. To this day, I do not accept free books on the off chance I will read them. I always know if a book has a chance with me for at least one reading. People borrowed and did not return and I learned to refuse to loan my books to anyone at all. Once there was a little money, if a friend saw something in my library and wanted to borrow it, I would buy and give them their own copy rather than trust them with mine. Still, books were lost over time. Some I reread and decided not to keep, some just vanished in moves and other life disasters. I look at my shelves or my lists and I remember them and miss some of them and frequently try to replace them. Then there came that second to last move (the last being the one when they carry me out of here to someplace none of my books can follow) to a smaller place, alone at last with all my books. Well, not all, fully one third of them had to be disposed of or left behind and during the choosing many were lost that I miss horribly today. Suddenly, my list regained importance. I had long before bought library software that I loved trying to transfer the list to computer except the books were no longer in reading order and I had long since stopped using asterisks. Books were grouped by genre, by author and I printed it out for a binder and hand wrote in all new additions for a year and then entered them in the data base and reprinted fresh pages. Until 1999 when DOS was lost and the program no longer worked. I continued to enter the books by  hand  until the binder was a real mess and then I tried to find a replacement program but none were satisfactory (they had done what they always do…improved on perfection till they ruined it). In 2007, I turned to my Word Processor and went back to my beginnings just listing each book on a single line as I read it. A book might, therefore, appear in the list every year for ten years as I reread it that often. I also now dated my lists so I could see how many books I read each month. I did not mark them as keepers but started another list on which I put books read and given away. Then came Goodreads and another place to list my books with covers displayed which, since I was buying a lot of books for my Kindle because there was no point in giving away a third of my books due to lack of room and then buying new ones to pile on the floor, was a pleasure I was missing, especially since I adore the colourful covers on cosies. I faced the daunting task of putting all of the books from my binder into their database…I will never manage that but it is a pleasant occupation on a day when I am in the mood for nothing else. I joined my first challenge in 2015 to see how many books I read: it consumed my year. I was focused on the number. I managed to read 377 books for the year. I reached my goal of a book a day. I worried that a reread book should not count. I thought that rereading and putting it on the site made this list like my semi-temporary Word Processing list and not like my binder list. My binder list is huge – with no repeat titles. It does not show the number times I have read a book or books in my lifetime, it shows the individual books I have read…some of which I have read upwards of ten times. On one hand I don’t want my Goodreads collection filled with duplicate covers and titles but I do want the actual number of books I have read to be counted. It looks like I cannot have both. And then there is the final disappointment with Goodreads. Someone…actually several someones…lied on the challenge. One woman in Nova Scotia claimed to have read 1800 books in twelve months which I consider an impossibility. She was not even claiming comic books or three page pamphlets. She was not alone and the lie stands on the record with no demur. So, if it were a true competition for prizes and I, with my reasonable, possible number, might conceivably be eligible for fifth prize, I would lose because ten people cheated and the contest holders let it stand unchallenged. In a way this is a good thing because I still keep my list of books as I read them and I still add to my binder and on Goodreads I joined the 2016 challenge and am adding books as I read them. Periodically, I shall go in and delete all duplicates (which may or may not affect my challenge numbers but since it is already ruined for me it no longer matters) books and the Goodreads site will stand as another of my lists, another vault to swim in. I know that if I counted up all the books on my list for the binder and then tripled it…that would give me close to the number of books I have read in my life but it is not numbers that matter, it is names..titles that have connected with my life and filled my days.

Every journal, and I keep a bunch of different ones including Dreamwidth, WordPress, LiveJournal, DayTimer, Fat Secret, Tumblr, Pinterest and more, serves a different purpose and so it is that my book lists change and evolve and there are more of them each serving as a way for me to grasp, possess, hold onto a book I have read, a book I loved, a book I want to reread. I look at my library these days and I love it, am comforted by it. It is not Mrs. Graham’s library but I knew when I first saw hers and fell in love with it that it would never be mine. I built my own in a way her family never did. I gave my life to my library. Every book, I, personally, chose, paid for and read at least once. I know them all as Mrs. Graham did not know hers. They are my friends and I am never lonely or bored surrounded by all my friends.

For this reason I love writers and am in awe of them.