Recently I have found out that I do not own almost any of my favorite books.
The realization came as a surprise, as I am a hoarder of books. I am consistently out of book space. “If I go now to a bookstore and buy all of my favorites, I won’t have anywhere to put them!” I thought somewhat paniced, but mostly dismayed. This must be the bookish girl version of I have no closet space and nothing to wear.
I have been a reader (and if you are, too, you will know I do not just mean a person, who can read) for as long as I can remember. As a kid, I practically lived in the library, which also happened to be a magnificent building with secret passages and a grand staircase, with a lot of reading nooks overlooking the beautiful scenery of my mountainous hometown, and aisles upon aisles of books. There was a terraced park around the building, complete with collonades and balconies, where I have been, on more than one occasion, a princess at a ball, a damsel in distress, and a brave knight saving the day. That library was my playground. I was the kid, who always reads, but I was also very socialble, so soon the library became the playground for my friends, too. We would chase each other in the park and play our fanciful make-believe games. And after that we would go inside, sit quietly and read or color books, or – later on – plan extravagant Christmas entertainment shows for our families. The planing started in late August.
When I was seven I was desperate to read David Copperfield. I picked it up from the shelf and walked blindly to the check-out desk, stroking the luxuriours hard cover with gold lettering, already opening to read the first page, impatient to dive in a new and wondrous world (I had no idea it would turn out a world of misery). But the librarian, a stern and authoritative lady, who always greeted us children without any trace of recognition we were actually children and addressed us with all the respect she would an adult, told me: “No, you cannot take this one. It’s not for such little children.”
Always reverant to elders, I did return the book to its place. Calmly and casually, I picked up the one next to it – still David Copperfield, but a paperback. It did not have gold lettering. Instead, it had an illustration on the cover, just as any other book for little children. “That should do it,” I thought.
It did not. I tried two more times with the same success. At the last try, the librarian watch told me: “First you have to read everything on the shelves at the front.”
There were three long rows of shelves at the front. A single row must have held 300 books. I went to the one on the left, took the rightmost five books on the top shelf and checked them out.
Two days later my mum got David Copperfield for me. I did read it, but I also read through the rows at the front. Among the five books I picked up that day happened to be three veritable gems (one was The Narnia Chronicles: The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe).
Such was my relationship with libraries. They were a home, a playground, and most of all a treasury – to be sifted through and marvelled at. I had no to-be-read list back then. I just picked out five to seven books (not blindly as that day, though, it was half the plesure to sit on the ground and choose), took them home and read them all.
Many of my all-time favorite books I took from and returned to my beloved town library. I did not mind the dusty covers and the stained pages. I did not mind holding books many people had held and I did not need to own them physically to own the emotions and excitement they brought.
“I’ll belong to libraries wherever I go. Maybe eventually I’ll belong to libraries on other planets.” – Jo Walton
Something changed once I left my home town. I did belong to libriaries everywhere I went, I think I always will. But they did not belng to me, not the way I was used to. So I developed a habit of hoarding.
Part 2 coming up 🙂