by Jean Henry Mead
I confess. I’m a bibliophile.
I love books. Old books, new books,
signed books and rare books, especially mystery novels. They're among my most prized possessions. I literally
have thousands of books and they’re in every room. We’ve run out of bookcases
and many of the ones that have already been read are in boxes, but I can’t bring
myself to get rid of them. I still have some from childhood (back in the dark ages).
bibliophile, Anne Fadiman, wrote that people who revere first editions and books
with lovely covers, and who worry about readers defiling them by writing in the
margins, are what she calls “courtly lovers.” She also said that readers “who
split open books as if they were ripe fruit, who dog-ear pages and use
paperbacks as table mats, are carnal lovers." Which of Fadiman’s categories do
you fit into?
I dread the day I have to move because it would cost a fortune to move all these books. And what a backbreaking job that
would be. I'm reminded of the time I interviewed Louis L’Amour at his southern
California home. His huge office contained floor to ceiling hinged bookcases.
Behind them were identical bookcases filled with some 10,000 books. I’m sure he
was a fellow bibliophile. I was happy to find one of my own books hiding there
on one of the lower shelves next to a copy of Riders of the Purple Sage.
I felt sorry for
L’Amour’s housekeeper. Have you ever tried dusting 10,000 books? No wonder
librarians are always sneezing. Even my dog sneezes when I take out my swivel
duster. Not that I dust mine every day. Writers need time away from housework,
but the temptation to caress my books while I take a break at my desk is
irresistible. They’re stacked on both sides of my computer and all along the top
in built-in bookcases, just sitting there waiting for me to take them down and
open them. Or just run my fingers along their spines. It makes me tingle just
thinking about it. Western writer Elmer Kelton once told me that his book
collection seemed to breed overnight. Bibliophiles are a sensual lot.
Just when it seemed as though a bedroom would have to be converted into a library, ebook readers came along during the '90s and I bought one when my own books were published electronically. I've since gone through the clumsy originals as well as Kindles, a Nook and an iPad, but there's still nothing like holding a print book in my hands, smelling the aroma of ink and rifling through the pages as though on a treasure hunt.
Which format do you prefer and would you trade print books for exclusive electronic reading?