Wednesday, July 04, 2007

On Owning Books

Buying and reading books are different activities but might seem similar. Buying and owning books are however entirely different. To buy a book, leaf through it, think and then buy it is one of the most pleasurable things to do. And perhaps not buying one, the lingering doubts that remain, the nagging images of the book covers in one's mind, what delights.... ...However, I must admit that I am a cover fetishist and I look unfavourably at a book that doesn't inspire thought, that doesn't seem odd or mysterious. A proven masterpiece fails to impress me if the cover is dull. An example being The Man Without Qualities, by Picador, front cover dull. One of my all time favourite front covers is Pale Fire, by Penguin amongst so many others. I know it sounds ridiculous but then some obsessions are.

Owning books, keeping them, treasuring them is a jealous activity. All reading is jealous, frantic and obsessional. I look at my books, these novels and poems, these unread philosophies as somewhat as my own peripheral existence, a kind of out of body, detached essence of my own being, and that is not being superfluous. Over the years, I have got out of the habit of borrowing books from a library. I forget to return the books in time, it is embarrassing, besides paying needless fines. I cannot read a book now if it is not mine. I must own it, it should be mine. It lingers in my hands as I touch it, I touch it for the effect of owning it, knowing that it is mine. This is not a book fetish, I must reassure.

Reading books is an aesthetic activity as well. It is nocturnal, and pleasurable usually in winter, when it rains, when my childhood snows accumulate. Outside the fresh hush of fallen snow, the hesitant crepitus of trodding feet on snow, or the wind at night, during long winter nights, pages transformed and reflected outside, panthers and monsters leaping out, some Dostyevsky, some other story. Summertime reading is not my forte but I try. I have never been able to read Dostyevsky in summer. I have read Genet, but it seems winter then.

Owning books is a kind of paranoia, a deep sense of disaffection, a helpless feeling in a transitory world. One can go back and think of times when a particular novel or philosophy meant so much. It brings back visceral memories sometimes, of people and times, of seasons and nights, for reading is generally a nocturnal activity. There are names and loves etched on familiar books, people associated who only visit us now in bizarre dreams. Old books, on shelves, near and in distant familiarities, even if dusty have an aura of memory and desire, my usual memory, my usual thwarted desire.

One can only, I can only give away my books to people who really care for the indiscreet and secret charm of the written word, to people who share this awful desire to read, to feed on ideas, the black white love of the written page. I don't usually share books out of miserliness, but when I do, I pray for the well being of these pages, usually paperbound. There are some crafty readers who are well read but don't ever buy a book. How can one savour a passage, a poem and not actually have it nearby? Does one have to part with all loves? Is seperation needed?

I can see my Pasolini Poems now, out in the corner, stacked amongst my other afflictions. I know there is a poem inside called Prayer To My Mother that I can read again, next to The Conference Of Birds by Attar that I must read. These stones don't sleep at night or rest during the day. They wait for me, when I am tired, unsure and not sure of anything.

2 comments:

antonia said...

"One can only, I can only give away my books to people who really care for the indiscreet and secret charm of the written word, to people who share this awful desire to read, to feed on ideas, the black white love of the written page."

very much agree with that. delightful text.

KUBLA KHAN said...

delighted that you agree, antonia.