Book MattersAn opinion piece, by Stanley Fish, in The New York Times looks at our relationship with books. Books can fill a room, and opening one up after many years on the shelf, as many do, can revive memories of the past. And, yet, people often give books away when they move, and the books, once cherished, do not move to the new, smaller residence. After all, books can command a lot of space.
I have sold my books. Not all of them, but most of them. I held on to the books I might need while putting the finishing touches on a manuscript that is now with my publisher. I also kept the books I will likely need when I begin my next project in the fall. But the books that sustained my professional life for 50 years — books by and about Milton, Spenser, Shakespeare, Skelton, Sidney, Herbert, Marvell, Herrick, Donne, Jonson, Burton, Browne, Bacon, Dryden, Hobbes — are gone (I watched them being literally wheeled out the door), and now I look around and see acres of empty white bookshelves.
The ostensible reason for this de-acquisition is a move from a fair-sized house to a much smaller apartment. It is true, as Anthony Powell said in a title, that books do furnish a room, but in this case, too many books, too little room. But the deeper reason is that it was time. What I saw on the shelves was work to which I would never return, the writings of fellow critics whom I will no longer engage, interpretive dilemmas someone else will have to address. The conversations I had participated in for decades have now gone in another direction (indeed, in several other directions), and I have neither the time nor, if truth be told, the intellectual energy required to catch up. Farewell to all that. So long, it’s been good to know you. I’m sure you’ll do fine without me.
In the hours and days following the exodus of the books I monitored myself for a post-mortem (please excuse the hyperbole) reaction. Would I feel regret? Nostalgia? Panic? Relief? I felt nothing. What should have been a momentous event barely registered as I moved on to what seemed the more important task of choosing a new carpet. I was reminded of what a colleague who had left a university after 23 years replied when I asked him if it was difficult to do. He said, “It was like checking out of a motel.”I understand Prof. Fish’s argument; I have on two occasions given some of my books away to a local library; one was when I moved from my parents’ house to a very tiny apartment; the second when I moved from my apartment in Montreal to a house in New Hampshire, and I made the then-difficult choice of giving away, again to a library, most of my university textbooks. The science and engineering ones I had not opened since graduation, so it made sense to give them away, thus saving me space.
I do not miss them, since my bookshelves now house newer books.We now live in apartment in Toronto, and I have seven bookshelves, four in the living-room and three in our bedroom. I might be able to squeeze in one more bookshelf, but that will be it. My wife says it’s enough. There are about 700 books sharing space with us, sufficient to keep me company.
I have a new Kindle, an e-book reader, that was given to me recently; It’s a technological wonder that saves physical space, and just a few days ago, I have downloaded my first e-book, a work on the Holocaust, Memoirs of a Jewish Journalist in Nazi Germany, by Werner L. Schlesinger. I have started reading it, and I must admit it’s convenient that you can download and save a whole library on one little electronic device,. Still, I am not yet used to reading a complete book on-screen. Not just yet. This might change in a few weeks or a few months.
You can read the rest of the article at [NYT]