there is something going on with books.
as far as data-storage goes, they don’t hold much compared to a flash drive or even a humble compact disc, but they do last much longer (let me see you get your files off that little plastic gadget in a hundred and fifty years…) plus, there is a sort of attachment, a personal quality to books that no other data-storage device can elicit. why?
as i told you, i’ve been doing an inventory of a friend’s book collection, and as tacky as it sounds, it is a labour of love, because i enjoy it thoroughly. i was telling O. about this the other day and she said “isn’t it cool how books bridge time?” and i think she hit the nail straight on its poor flat stainless steel head.
the books i’ve processed so far are virtually all poetry and, well, i will admit that at least one of the books made me feel starstruck. the tactile quality, the design, the fact that i knew who put it together and bound it – yes, don’t forget we’re talking poetry books here, which are much more likely to come in nice or unusual editions, often hand-bound, often on nice, heavier paper, at times with watermarks or embossings –
why did we (and do we still, at times) put such attention to detail into these books? because chances are they will outlive us by decades, maybe centuries. and even more so, because what is inside matters to us, and it only makes sense for the packaging to reflect that. you wouldn’t offer gourmet truffles in jolly rancher wrappers, would you?
why do we read and write poetry? you may want to head over to my ‘manifesto’ from a little while ago. if you’ve already read it, i’ll spare you a repeat… (https://outsideofacat.wordpress.com/2009/02/27/mommas-magnificent-manifesto/) let’s just say it’s something innate, something essentially human, a necessary and intriguing form of communication.
the reason i am so enjoying myself doing what some people would find a very dull task (looking up / entering title, publisher, edition, year, and so forth) is the same reason i so loved volunteering at the oxfam bookshop: i feel connected. connected to a community of writers, even though i only know a few face to face. these people are familiars, i have listened to them – their voices are right there, under my fingertips.
when i was entering rare and collectable books into the bookshop’s online shop database, i was starstruck a few times – but never more than when i came across a slender, paper-and-boards volume from the early 1900s, from the hogarth press. virginia woolf has been possibly my favorite writer for years and years, because of her voice in her writing, at times tongue-in-cheek, at times serious, and that book was like a direct connection. i suppose if i had known some years earlier this would happen, i would not have been quite so… amused by my german lit professor’s comments about goethe’s soap dish and how great it was to see that on display. still, a soap dish is not a book. 🙂
i like O’s idea of books as bridges across time, – it captures the way i feel quite well. and i do feel connected through words, through books just as much as, and frequently more than in any other way.
i’ll close with a few passages from clive bell’s poems, fittingly also printed by leonard and virginia woolf / the hogarth press. “A.V.S.” stands for adeline virginia stephen, woolf’s maiden name. bell had married woolf’s sister vanessa two years before writing this. i stumbled across this just now – what a nice coincidence:
To A.V.S. WITH A BOOK
Books are the quiet monitors of mind,
They prompt its motions, shape its ways, they find
A road through mazes to the higher ground.
Books are the mind’s last symbol. They express
Its visions and its subtleties — a dress
Material for the immaterial things
That soar to immortality on wings
Of words, and live, by magic of the pen.
Where dead minds live, upon the lips of men
And deep in hearts that stir. Wherefore do I,
Drawing a little near, prophetically,
Send you a book.
(to read the full text of clive bell's collection, go here: http://www20.us.archive.org/details/bellclive00bellrich ) p.s. - now, you say, where's the story about frank o'hara biting your big toe? ok, here it is. frank came in one evening, a few days ago, and started talking to me. he rubbed against my shins and purred like a deere, so i sat on the stairs to give him his scritchums, and, well, he got a little too boisterous and playful and bit my toe. ouch.