ESSAY- Lit-ville: I am my books, and my books are me

Whoa, check out these titles: Sodome et Gomorrhe by Marcel Proust, Verlaine's Oeuvres Poetiques, And all those books about philosophy and linguistics. 

Whose bookshelves are these? Somebody really smart must live here.

Oh, wait, those are my books, on my bookshelves. Apart from dusting them, which I'm doing today, those books haven't seen any action in decades.

Every time I've considered thinning the ranks, I hesitate over certain books, these among them.

Why do I hold onto these books? They make me feel greedy, like Scrooge McDuck sitting on all those full-to-bursting bags with the dollar signs on them. What's the point of holding onto a book that nobody's reading?

If the truth be told, I'm hoping that visitors to my house will peruse my bookshelves and come away impressed with my exquisite sensibilities. 

In reality, the visitors to my house are nearly always people who are related to me, and it's too late– they already know who I really am. 

They know that I pretty much forgot the entire French language after I collected my bachelor's degree in the subject, and they correctly suspect that I never made it all the way through any of those philosophy books.

Standing back, I size up the titles from afar. To clear off that shelf of French books would be painful, like tearing out a section of my brain– the part that still remembers squirming uncomfortably on a wooden bench in a creaky old hall in the Sorbonne, enduring lectures on the 19th century French novel from a professor we'd nicknamed "Fishface." 

I like that adventurous young woman I used to be. I savor that expansive time of my life, when every little drama– whether it was humiliation, heartache, or being caught in the rain– seemed downright cinematic, because it was set against the backdrop of Paris.

For decades I have harbored the conceit that my bookshelves are me, writ large, on display. In truth, they are who I would like to be, who I used to be. They are a museum. A collection of fossils.

Surely, there's someone out there, beyond my dusty shelves, who would love to have a copy of Le Rouge et le Noir written in Stendahl's native tongue– someone who would open it up and read it.

After all, books, like money, are meant to circulate. When you sit on your collection of greenbacks, or hardbacks, what good are they to anyone?

Must get rid of them. Must start over. Display all my new-agey books on the power of intention, the Conversations with God books, the Suzanne Somers how-not-to-look-old books. 

Then again, I don't think I'm ready to toss back the veils from those areas of my mind to visiting shelf peepers. Is my obsession with health and youth and immortality ready to be writ large upon my shelves? 

Oh, my head hurts. I'll have to take a break from this arduous dusting. I need counseling. I need someone to reassure me that removing these books from my life is not the same as excising memories from my brain. 

Anyway, who knows? Maybe I'll need to refer to them. What if someone asks me to recite one of Verlaine's poems, or seeks my counsel regarding the finer points of Kant's categorical imperative? What if I need to explain the great English vowel shift to somebody? 

Oh, right: I could just google any of those things. 

Ah, but what if the apocalypse comes? Answer me that! No computers, no electricity– my bookshelves would be a repository for great hunks of Western civilization.

Time to get back to work. And time to admit that I'm not someone who reads such books as these– I'm merely someone who dusts them.


Free Union resident Janis Jaquith writes essays for NPR stations too.


1 comment

Why? Why is this diary entry available for others? Why does the Hook waste the space?

Read or don't read, that's your business. Lament your life, or don't, that's also your business.

But please, Hook and this writer, communicate thoughts about our city, state or national issues, ideas, problems and opportunities.