Thursday, May 19, 2011

My personal library

     "I had a library of books, oh, thousands of books ‑ never could bear to toss one out, not even the bad ones ‑ and when folks would come to the house to visit they'd look around at all the nooks and crannies stuffed with books; and if they were the sort of folks who don't snuggle with books, they'd always ask the same dumb question. ... They'd ask me, 'Have you read all these books?' ...
     "And it came to annoy me more than a little bit. Till I finally figured out the right answer. ... 'Hell, no. Who wants a library full of books you've already read?'"
‑ Harlan Ellison, "Paladin of the Lost Hour"

     You're more likely to have heard that as dialogue from an episode of The New Twilight Zone, spoken by Danny Kaye, than to have read it in print, but that's one of my favorite quotes about books.
I do have hundreds, maybe thousands, of books in my home, most of which I haven't read yet. And quite a lot of them are now out of print and some of them may not be available in a nearby library.
     And that's one reason I don't apologize for having so many books. Some were impulse buys, but others are books that I want to read and plan to some day. When I decide to read them, I want them to be available.
     Maybe that's old-fashioned thinking. With eBooks, it's possible books will no longer go out of print, and they will always be available to download. Maybe, but I doubt it. At the very least, older books will probably be allowed to disappear, just as some old records and movies were never transferred to CD, VHS, DVD or Blu-ray. Of the ones that did, not all are currently available in that format either. And if they are electronically stored, who's to say that a massive electromagnetic pulse won't erase the whole lot of them by accident some day?  Remember the library at Alexandria?
     Besides, I like the feel and heft of books and doubt I will ever warm to a plastic, metal and glass eBook reader.
     In any case, I regret the books I didn't buy (that are now long gone or available only at exorbitant prices from second hand sellers) much more than I regret the books I did buy, no matter how awful I found them.
     I also regret books that I wasn't aware of until they were out of print. So many books are never found in a big box store or a small independent book shop. You can’t even find them online unless you know to look for them.
     I regularly look at book reviews in magazines such as Entertainment Weekly or – for science fiction titles – Locus, and the Amazon and Borders websites have recommendations for me, based on my previous purchases, but I still miss titles. I might not have rediscovered steampunk if I hadn’t happened upon “Extraordinary Engines” at the New Horizon Book Shop.
     I have sold or given away many books. Recently I have been looking through my still enormous collection, only to find some titles missing that I had meant to keep. Did I get rid of them by mistake? Did I decide on the spur of the moment that I no longer needed or wanted them? Are they just misplaced?
       Maybe you had a cherished book in childhood and have tried to locate a copy for your child or a friend, only to find it is no longer in print and the library doesn't have a copy. Wouldn't it be nice if you had kept the book all these years  so they could experience it too?
      How many books do you own? A book shelf’s worth? A bookcase? More? Any hardcovers? Tell me about it.


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