This is an opinionated view of what one book lover thinks of collecting and preserving his books.
Bibliomania And Me!
by Alvin C. Romer
Books are what we are. We carry them as we do our names. They give our lives order and can very well be the storehouse of memories quite apart from their content. The challenge for me is to plan a home for books that does more than accommodate them physically. As such, books should be arranged so they’re accessible and provide the pleasure of their presence. It’s this "presence" that I talk about here as I attempt to explain the need to have books in my mindset. Bibliomania and Me I hope, should give you an idea of how I feel.
Author, Darrien Lee sent out an SOS asking for books to be donated to her local library which didn’t have a worthy representation of African-American books in the community library. I reacted to this damsel in distress with mixed emotions and knew before acquiescing that it would doubly be a labor of love and a sad occasion because I had to part with many books that had become familial in a unique setting. Books housed in my library and storage area have the best of it when it came to shelf life, but having to decimate my collection came with a price. As of this writing, I’ve sent Ms Lee a total of 75 books with more on the way. With heavy heart and knowing that I was contributing to a worthy cause, I felt as though I was losing a child of mine. Those books are my life!
Why do we feel so passionate about books, and why do we accumulate them in a seemingly uncontrollable fashion throughout our lives? Our libraries express something more than just learning – they link us with the past, present, and future in a way that’s portable, affordable, and aesthetically pleasurable. The more we read the more we retain the books that eventually becomes the libraries of our existence. And in my case, there is no end to the persistent, lovable, but sometimes intolerable presence of books! I’m sure as you read this, there are those of you out there with a large accumulation that undoubtedly have become a part of your own bibliomania.
Ah, the mania behind the books! The reason for this muse started when the need to pare my library become a MUST. I found myself with the task of relocating and reevaluating scores of them because I had too many to house and not enough space. As I went about this, I continually asked myself – how did I come to amass so many books, and why? Before I began to answer the questions I innately know why and wondered did anybody else have the same mindset.
You see, I’m an information junkie, a voracious reader, and have a penchant to keep those books that I feel may warrant me harking back to retrieve some of the data that’s stored in them. I actually love the process leading up to and including the buying of the book. Once it is acquired, it goes on a shelf and is quickly immersed in my intricate and orderly organizing system. I caress, coddle, and cuddle them and dare anyone to mistreat books in my presence.
The people who fuel this type of passion are many, and I constantly judge people by what they read…or if they read at all. But a collector of books is a person after my own heart. From antiquarian to new age, some are serious collectors searching out and acquiring first editions of any age and era. There is also the collector who collects simply for pleasure, without rhyme or reason. Then there are collectors who are niche specific, who also are simply readers that are proud of their quest to prove that quality literature is not regulated to one race of people. Moreover, they are authors themselves, among others that have embraced this thing of book collecting. They are people who amass books to read and then keep them afterward, regarding them as treasures that continue to grow and glow with the hidden magic of their art. That includes most of us…. the book club folk, the online reading groups, and the media specialist/librarians. There’s no secret to this process. We’re prone to keep the books we read as children for sentimental reasons and to pass them on to our own children. Of course, we would have read to them at an early age to instill in them the importance of books, thus creating future bibliophiles. As we grow up we collect adult books, those we love and admire and wish to return to. We go to work and add work-related books. We marry, we divorce, we have families, we grow old, and along the way we learn to hang on to our books!
Books are central to my life and my inner sanctum. At last count there were 2,187 books in my personal library spread out in two different residences, including quite a few boxes in storage accumulated over a 30 year span. These are books I grew up with; books that were purchased; books I’ve collected and saved; books I’ve been given (from publishers and authors alike); and books I can’t bear to give or throw away. The world of a bibliophile and the mania that feeds into the psyche are rife with questions both inside and outside of the sanctity. Chief among them: where do all of those collected books go? How are they stored? And most importantly, if you keep them, how do you organize them? Invariably, there are piles on the floor, and incessant complaints (from those that are not as enamored as you are) that "they’re all over the place!" Albeit, we book people want our books where we can get to them, which is everywhere – close by and accessible. This brings me to another query: Do bibliophiles lend their books?
I DO lend my books but do so using a sense of discernment. I’m aware too, that the custom of borrowing books confutes nature. In every other such situation the borrower becomes a slave to the lender, the social weight of the debt so altering the balance of a relationship that a temporary acquisition turns into a permanent loss. This is certainly true with money, yet it’s not all true with books. For some reason a book borrower feels that a book once taken is his own, and will take his/her time returning it, if at all. This removes both memory and guilt from the transaction. Anything I hate is loaning books and getting them back not in the same condition I gave it. Worse, would be for me to know that the book wasn't read at all!
Alas, there’s the guest in your home that lingers hoping to come away with a book from your collection. Indeed, most people would much prefer to see the guest first scan, then peer and turn away in boredom or disapproval. Too often the eyes dark with calculation shift from title to title. Nor is that the worst. It’s when those eyes stop moving that my heart stops, too. Body language is definitive of intent…his hand floats up to where his eyes have led it. You freeze. He smiles. You hear the question even as it forms: "Would you mind if I borrowed this book?" Should I mind that you seek to take one of my children away undoubtedly never to get it back? Then even if you actually return it to me one day, I will be wizened and withered with worry hoping that your mishandling was bereft of dirt and grime. Somehow I keep hearing the phrase, 'everything comes to him who waits except a loanded book'. Mind? Of course I do!
This is just a case in point on how one bibliophile reacts to this mania of book ownership, which shows only how passionate people are about their books, but that the embracing environment created by books extends – and sometimes transcends – the pleasure of reading them.