Friday, January 8, 2010
Book-loving, and -keeping
Been reading A Passion for Books, edited by Harold Rabinowitz and Rob Kaplan. It is a book about "collecting, reading, borrowing, lending, caring for, and appreciating books." I am not a book collector, in the sense that A.S.W. Rosenbach was a book collector, but I do have quite a hoard, which has been quietly encroaching my parents' shelves too (partly because my dad likes reading my books after--or even before--I've read them...in fact he even picks up some of the books I borrow from friends--while I'm reading them).
I am really amused with some anecdotes about writers (like the one about Margaret Mitchell getting so overwhelmed about her book being chosen as Book of the Month that she kept it to herself for three days, and the one about Wordsworth tearing open the pages of a new book using a butter-y butter knife) because in these little glimpses you really get to picture them as real people, and not as the big names behind some famous book. But I want to delve into caring for books in this post.
I live in the top floor of a building, and up there, when it rains, the walls sweat. When we moved in, we converted all of the nooks in the rooms into bookshelves by putting some glass in them, and they're pretty sturdy and accessible. Problem was we didn't know that bit about the walls, so when the rainy season came, we learned the hard way that those easy-access shelves were death-traps for books. It was a good thing that the books that were sticking to the walls were wrapped in plastic so we could just wipe the mold away and save them.
I've at least three rainy seasons in that flat under my belt, and I've found a good way to use the shelves without leaving much damage to the books. Instead of the usual way of putting books side by side, I just stack them up one on top of the other. This way, no book needs to touch the traitorous walls. It's just harder to pick out a book that is in the bottom, but that's a small price to pay if it means the books will never get wet.
Here are a few mental notes I've made about keeping books.
1. Shelves should be reachable; too-high shelves discourage browsing and rediscovering old favorites. I failed to mention that, besides the nooks that we converted to mini bookshelves, my dad had the carpenter build a long ledge for books one foot below the ceiling. I cannot reach any of the books up there and it constantly frustrates me. Besides, it's harder to dust!
2. Keep away books from harsh light. I have a booklet that I keep by my bedside. I wondered every day why the face got lighter and lighter as time went by. Then I remembered that I kept it on the window ledge, unprotected by the curtain.
3. Regular cleaning keeps books happy! If you don't regularly dust the books (or shift them around, rearrange them), they could turn brown faster, gather dust and form cobwebs (A-choo!). In the words of one of my friends: "they age."
4. Reading while eating? Proceed with caution when it comes to snacking. I sometimes read at the dining table because there is no other decent place where I can sit and have a sturdy table to put a glass of water on. (And reading on the bed makes me sleepy.) But because it's a dining table I tend to snack. There are neat foods and there are messy ones, so I guess anyone will be able to distinguish them and exercise proper caution. Mealtimes, though, should be spent with spoon and fork on the right and left hands respectively.
"I have sometimes heard of an Iliad in a nutshell; but it hath been my fortune to have much oftener seen a nutshell in an Iliad." -Jonathan Swift