“Let other people see in what I borrow whether I have known how to choose what would enhance my theme.”

–Montaigne

I’ve begun to admire the contents of my bookshelves again, even though my library now contains only a small fraction of the number of books I once owned. I sometimes tell friends that I’ll spend the remainder of my lifetime rebuilding my once substantial library, even though I don’t expect to ever come close to the number of signed first editions and other rarities which once graced my shelves. Fortunately, during my poverty-induced literary diaspora, I gave several signed copies and other first editions to my two sons, especially the ones acquired through my own journalism and writing.

hemingway

Hemingway first editions in my library, circa. 2000

One inscription in particular, in Edward Stanton’s Hemingway and Spain: A Pursuit, makes specific and kind reference to my oldest son, Adam. I met the author for beer and appetizers to interview him for an article and review, accompanied by the infant and sleeping Adam in his portable child carrier. I gave Adam the book, thinking that his name in the inscription might one day be a source of pride or at least sentimentality. I learned from his brother a few months later, though, that the book quickly ended up in the closet. Literally. Deeply hurt, I was comforted by my youngest son, Aaron, who reported that he had rescued the book and given it a new home on his own shelves.

Edward Stanton, Hemingway and Spain: A Pursuit. Click on the above link to order or browse at Amazon.

“To a book collector,” wrote German critic and bibliophile Walter Benjamin,” the true freedom of all books is somewhere on his shelves.” Benjamin goes on to write of the attendant feeling of responsibility which library owners share, as well as “the most intimate relationship” the collector has with his or her books. And it is truly an intimate relationship.

Although my books have always been loosely organized at best, I can almost find a particular volume with my eyes closed. Each book also tells its own story of acquisition, of trips and vacations, and in many instances, memories of exquisite all-night reading sessions. Each book tells much more than the story within its boards.

I remember one Florida vacation when my ex-wife and I were still newly married, where I read a Paul Bowles short story collection while sunning by the hotel pool. Chased to our room by a thundershower, I left the book in the rain. A trade paperback (and therefore of little collectible value), it eventually dried in the sun. But the point is that leaving The Delicate Prey in the rain is now virtually my only memory of that long-ago vacation.

Paul Bowles, The Delicate Prey and Other Stories. Click on the above link to order or browse at Amazon.

I know that in all likelihood I’ll never again own the sort of library I still had only a decade ago. But I do have a library, however modest, and it is once again growing as much as my finances and taste will allow. It’s care and nurture will once again be my life’s work. And this time, I’ll never sell books out of poverty again.

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