Tuesday, March 29, 2005

My father kept hinting about burning my library. Making a funeral pyre and torching them.

My mother keeps sneaking references, in conversation, to throwing them all away when I am not home.

I have four bookshelves filled with books, some of the shelves doubled up. So many books, that I divided them up by genre and/or language:
  • Romanian Language Books
  • Chinese Language Books
  • Japanese Language Books
  • Books in English on Taiwan/China/Hong Kong
  • Books in English on Japan
  • Books in English on Romania
  • Art Catalogues
  • Craft How-to Books
  • Travel Guides
  • Fiction (alphabetized by author's last name)
  • Language Books
  • Dictionaries
  • General Comicbooks
  • Carl Barks Comicbooks
  • Non-Fiction General
  • Art Magazines
  • Italian, Spanish, German and French Books (as well as a few books in Tagalog, Dutch, Finnish, Slovak, Hungarian - for god knows what reason)
  • General Magazines
  • Oversize

For years, I just went to library book sales and got myself stacks of classics at 25 cents each. Then, when I moved to Taiwan, I bought no reading material. A few months of that borrowed copy of Ulysses and I went mad. Eslite, in particular, pushed me over the edge.

Later, lonely and bored in a rice town too far from Tokyo, I succumbed to the Japanese daftness of mail order goods. Aside from joining the Underwear of the Month Club and the Wine of the Month Club, I ordered books along with crustaceans and tea ceremony candies.

To be extra safe from boredom, I augmented my collection from Munro's Books and the Elliott Bay Book Company.

Once I moved back to Canada and reunited my far-flung collection, even I was astounded at its size.

In Vienna, apartments have even more bookshelves than mine, filled with even more books than I have. That's normal over there.

Here in Canada - and on the sporty West Coast - no one has as many books as I do. Even my most literate friends have either culled their collections down to a coffee table or never bought more than would fill one bookshelf. My only heavily booked friend just reduced her collection to ten books as she prepares to move to the other side of Canada.

That leaves me.

A lone dissident in the face of the non-book-collecting masses.

My resolve is cracking. Two years ago I declared a moratorium on any book-buying, unless the book happened to be an art catalogue. I boxed some of the language books for more opportune times. I culled all bestsellers from my collection (from well-meaning relatives who think I like just any book). I will re-gift the crappy pudding-simple re-tellings of classics to a new generation of children.

I fear that even more has to be done. The rare books that cannot be borrowed from a library are staying, as are the books I paid full price for, the foreign language books, the classics and the art books.

The left over books, however, plead to be kept: "What if you have a quoting emergency?"

Yes, what would I do if a troll is about to crush me to a pulp unless I come up with a witty remark on the death of Socrates? Or, if a herd of rhinoceri threaten to trample me into the dust of the earth unless I bedazzle them with a sonnet on modernist architecture?

The problem with the undercurrent of destruction that plagues my dreams is that, even if all my current books were to be burned out of my life, more would sneak in to take their place.

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