by Jane Wiseman
I suffer badly from bibliophilia and have yet to find a cure. I’m curious about it and its source. My husband has threatened to install a book-detector at our back door to sound an alarm when more books enter the house, but so far he lacks the technical expertise, so the disease rages on.
For decades, I never missed the Holland Hall Book Fair in Tulsa (a treasure!) and had to sneak boxes of books into the house. I swore I’d abide by the “one book in, one book out” rule, but just couldn’t honor the pledge. For me, what more solemn duty than to give these books sanctuary? And I have no stomach (à la Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery”) for choosing which current occupants will correspondingly get it where the chicken got the ax.
Besides, my boys were the happy beneficiaries of my bargains from “Linus’s Corner” at the Book Fair and never went without new adventure stories and children’s poetry books and classics. I believe bibliophilia is hereditary, or, at least, contagious, if my boys are any indication. And what a godsend now to have the arrival of grandchildren—a new generation for these treasures!
So, what is it about books that demands possession and proximity? The old expression, “A book is a gift you can open again and again” doesn’t quite do it. And I confess to having lots of books on my Kindle and iPad. But so often I buy the book in hardcopy after the digital read because I want to see and hold the physical beauty of the words on the paper page. Such sensory satisfaction—sight, smell, touch, even sound—the whisper of pages turning.
When we were children, every December was a Proustian “madeleine” moment for my two sibs and me when we opened the Christmas box from our Australian cousins, filled with down-under kids’ books with their unmistakable exotic Aussie fragrance in full fig as we cracked open the first page. So I recognized at once the bond between New York booklover Anne Bancroft and London bookseller Anthony Hopkins in the movie version of Helene Hanff’s 84 Charing Cross Road, with all its literary allusions and evocative book—and bookshop—smells.
Shifting gears gently, let me say that books, in my experience, have a very pragmatic side. The first car I ever bought on my own ($55 a month car payments!) was a manual transmission, sand-colored AMC Gremlin, surely a classic by now—rejected, however, by my sons who demanded to be let out a block from school to avoid public association with such a vehicle. The Gremlin had an abbreviated back seat and an insignificant rear compartment. It was rear-wheel drive and weighed next to nothing, making it treacherous in icy conditions.
When the Tulsa City-County Library had its annual surplus book sale, I had a rare flash of brilliance. I loaded up on boxes of book discards in their unmistakable public library cloth bindings and kept them in the rear of the Gremlin. They provided rear ballast on icy roads, and if I got stuck, I’d have something to read until rescued. And if help was not forthcoming, I could cover myself in the open volumes, or if desperate, pull out the pages (sacrilege!) and bury myself, or, in extremis, burn them. Or, perhaps, even eat them, becoming wiser in the consumption. [N.B.: Digital literature will not help you there.]
Robert Frost put it well (he wasn’t referring to books but he could’ve been):
I could give all to Time—except
What I myself have held. But why declare
The Things forbidden that while the Customs slept
I have crossed to Safety with? For I am There
And what I would not part with I have kept.
My search for the source of bibliophilia continues, but the source matters less than its seductive presence, right? So let’s not be too hasty in finding a cure.
Jane Wiseman writes for a living as a Judge on the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals. She counts the day she joined Nimrod’s Advisory Board as one of her happiest and currently serves as Chair of the Advisory Board.