So, as I mentioned, I’ve recently moved across the country, and have been busy arranging things and making our new little place a home. (It’s NYC, so I mean “little” quite literally). Most of my things are here around me now, which feels good, but I’m still missing my books. I shipped them media mail to a friend, and have yet to lug them down her stairs, into my car, across the borough, and up my own 3 flights of stairs. But tomorrow is the day for that, and I am excited. It will be so good to have my old friends back home with me.
I have been thinking about my books since I last saw them, wondering if all arrived safely, reciting their titles in my head. As you may have gathered from reading my blog, I’m a Buddhist, and so I try not to be attached to material things, but books are hard for me. I still think about the ones I had to leave behind and sell when I lived in London, Copenhagen, and Bangkok. Some of them I’ve bought again, others I just call up in my memory now and then, gazing at their covers with my mind, flipping through their pages. It’s funny, but I can remember what many of them looked and felt like, often just as well as what was inside their pages. I am re-reading Virginia Woolf’s The Waves, now, but the old, yellowed copy with the crumbling cover, with the watercolor picture of waves on it, that I borrowed from Dee in Bangkok, is never far from my thoughts, nor is the grass in the park in which I so often read then.
Why am I so attached to my books? Why does a house not feel like a home without cobbled together bits of paper with words on them strewn about it? My friend Jessica had a good explanation for it. She said it’s because the books on our shelves are our trophies. I had never thought of it that way before, but she’s right, don’t you think? When I look at that copy of The Wind Up Bird Chronicle, or that big honkin Ulysses up there on my shelf (or think of them, far across Brooklyn, in their boxes) I feel a sense of pride knowing that I have read that, and a sense of accomplishment, a box I have ticked off. Even the small, thin books tell a story beyond what is in their pages: they tell a story about me, who I am, what I know and what I have thought about. I guess that’s another reason I like to see my books around me: they remind me who I am, what I know that I’ve forgotten, what wisdom was once imparted to me, that could be picked up again any moment by opening the pages, or even just by looking at a spine.