September 27, 2021 § 9 Comments
By Shiv Dutta
If you walk into my house and look to the left or to the right or straight ahead, you’ll see piles of books. You’ll see them on the end tables, you’ll see them on the coffee table, you’ll see them even on the dining table. I have no room left for them on my bookshelves.
I’m a book hoarder but I prefer to be called a bibliophile or a bibliophilist or even a bibliomaniac. People get addicted to caffeine or alcohol or smoking. I’m addicted to books. I buy every single book I read. I rarely depend on libraries except for fat and oversize reference books.
The school of hard knocks has taught me never to lend books. I used to lend them before but every single book I ever lent never came back. During my many moves, I’ve given away a lot of my possessions, including TVs, VCRs and DVDs, but I’ve never parted with my books. I still have a copy of Chariots of the Gods by infamous Erich Von Daniken, a book I bought in Canada in 1972 for $1.25; a copy of The Saint by Leslie Charteris I bought eons ago for less than a dollar; and a copy of Men and Women by Hugh Garner I bought in 1973 for $1.
I’ve been buying books for as long as I can remember. Over the years this habit has turned into a private yearning and compulsive need. However, I don’t buy them randomly. There is a method to this madness. I buy mainly memoirs. Occasionally I do buy books of poetry, fictions and essays. I’m usually drawn to books no longer than 250-300 pages. But I let loose my madness when it comes to books by my teachers, mentors and friends. I buy their books regardless of genres or length.
Like blind love, my support for the book industry is unconditional. Every time I have gone to a bookstore to get a particular book, I usually ended up getting several. I always maintain a list of books I want to acquire so I’m never in a fix to decide what to pick. When I have money, food and books are at the top of my priorities. If any money is left I consider spending it on other things!
In case you’re thinking I’m a bibliophile running amok only to satiate my acquisitive predilections, let me hasten to assure you I’m a bibliophage as well.
Stephen King once said, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.” Well, I’m an aspiring writer, and I do make it a point to set aside enough time to read! I buy nearly 50 books a year, and though I aim to read just as many in the same period of time, more often than not, I miss my target. I cannot ever half-read a book even if it fails to hold my interest. I’m a slow reader to boot. Not only do I have to read every single word in the book I read, I have to digest their nuances and subtleties as I go along. In this, I follow what Francis Bacon said almost 400 years ago: “Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.” As a result of the mismatch between my purchase and the reading target, I often end up with a heap of books on my TBR stack. This serves me well because I never find myself without a book when I want to read one.
When I get a new book, the first thing I do is give it a tight hug and feel its soft slick pages. I smell the prints and the covers and read the first couple of pages to find out when the book was published, who published it, is this first book by the author? No, what other books has the author published?
When I’m finished reading it, I always sign my name and add the date I finished it on. The date helps me track the number of books read in a year, and the signature will let whoever the book passes to after me know the identity of the original owner. Maybe he/she’ll put his/her signature below mine, and the book will thus continue to move on and leave a trail of ownership.
Cicero would have been gratified at the sight of so many books in my study! He thought a room without books is like a body without a soul. When I’m in it, surrounded by walls of books, I feel the presence of kindred spirits. I can almost hear them quietly shuffling around and showering me with their blessings. The room seethes with the collective wisdom of legions of muted souls.
James Baldwin wrote, “You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive,” I hear an echo of my feelings in these words. Books have saved me more than once. In times of loneliness and despondency when I looked for someone or something to reach out and touch, I found succor in their pages. To paraphrase Ursula K. Le Guin, books have helped me understand who I am, what other people are thinking and doing and feeling.
“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.” That’s what George R.R. Martin said, and I find myself in concurrence with him. I’ve certainly lived a thousand lives already. To me, books are, to quote Sarah MacLean, “Happiness.” I need them just as much as I need air to breathe.
Shiv Dutta‘s writing has appeared in several places including Brevity Blog, Tampa Review, Under the Sun, Tin House, Hippocampus Magazine, Silk Road Review, Pilgrimage, Connotation Press, The Evansville Review, Green Hills Literary Lantern, and Eclectica Magazine. He has also produced 45 technical papers and co-authored two technical books. Two of his personal essays were nominated for the Pushcart Prize. He is currently writing his memoirs. When not engaged in literary pursuits, Shiv spends his time on Facebook and music.