the art and magic of collecting books


“I love to own books. Though I read few books twice, I have filled every shelf in my house with books, have had more shelves made and filled those too. My books surround me like a cocoon. When I run my finger along the backs of my books they feel like the ribcage of an old familiar lover. Visit my shelves and you will learn much about me.” 
― Joe BennettBedside Lovers

Books have always produced a sense of awe in me.  They have enticed me like items in a candy shoppe, alluring me like the finest array of beautifully packaged cosmetics. But more than this surface appeal involving the actual feel and texture of any given book, there has always been the allure and fantasy that perhaps there is one book that can give me the most amazing secrets of success, the answer to the deepest questions, and perhaps in my wildest fantasy knowledge akin to the Secrets of the Sphinx. When I enter a library or bookstore, the world seems to expand into infinity. The secrets of the universe seem to be at my fingertips. Jorge Luis Borges has written that "it does not seem unlikely that on some shelf of the universe there lies a total book....and it is not illogical to think that the world is infinite."  (The Library of Babel) 

I always enter a "house of books" with a sense  of reverence akin to entering a house of worship.  And while I dare not say I love books as much as people, I must say that books are like people to me. They are endlessly fascinating, and I love the thrill of getting to know them.  Who are you?  I ask the question of books when I encounter them, and of people when I meet them.  Some books are like best friends and other books are like acquaintances.  And just as I love different aspects of different people who inspire me and fulfill different needs, the same goes for what I read (or don't read).  Some days, a novel will absorb me with the lives of others, while on others days, a philosophy book will satisfy the desire to understand rather than to escape. 

Borges has raised questions around knowledge and understanding, suggesting that while knowledge is infinite, it stands to reason that the number of books and our access to this knowledge is finite.   I often wonder if the art of collecting books is my desire to access infinity, immortality or both. Sometimes I stand in front of my bookcase in a state of utter paralysis wondering what to read. Other times, I am lucky enough to choose a book and run for my life, before I change my mind.  As I sit down to read what I have chosen, a sense of peace and relief washes over me as. In times like this,  I remember with precision and a sense of pride that "In the beginning was the word."