When I was eight, the librarian pulled my mother aside and said she was worried because I had read every children’s book on their shelves. That seems like a hyperbolic and inaccurate memory but it nonetheless smacks of the truth.
I’ve been an unrepentant book fiend from an early age.
I’d opened my own library that year. I made a card for each book I owned and slipped it into an envelope I’d pasted on the inside cover. I taped handwritten tags onto each spine Identifying the book’s category and author. And I started to lend them to the other children in the neighborhood.
Alas, my library didn’t stay in business long. My borrowers turned out not to be returners and, when my shelves emptied, my mother insisted I close the library for good.
In my teens, I began typing index cards for every book I read. I included all of the publishing information as well as a brief review and filed them in a green metal box. I can’t find that box anymore but I did unearth a bound roster of books on onionskin that I began when I was seventeen and quite insufferable.
The list is balanced between lighter fare like Gland Time by Don Townsend (my review: “Rubbish; Australian rubbish in fact”), The Pleasure of Pipe Smoking (“Great stuff, hilarious too”) and Le Crime de L’Orient Express by Agatha Christie (“Refresher in frog before Princeton placement test. Quite easy, almost as natural as English. Ignore otherwise.”) and weightier tomes like Aristophanes, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Ulysses, Roth (“Still shit after all these years”) and The Diary of Vaslav Nijisky (“Allegedly a brilliant philosophical treatise on human condition but is actually nothing but pointless rambling. Skip it.“)
I don’t really know why making these sorts of lists has always been of interest to me. It’s partly anality, I guess, though I was never a very neat typist and the cards are full of white out and backspaces. But it did seem very important to me to put down all of the minutiae of copyright dates and various publishers and listing every single short story in a collection. This from Graham Greene: “Doctor Crombie (Doctor maintains that sex leads to cancer), May We Borrow Your Husband? (Homosexuals and newlyweds), The Overnight Bag (Dead baby?)” and so on.
Maybe it’s just a form of hoarding — I definitely like the idea of arranging books in lists and on shelves, sorting them alphabetically, by height or spine color. There’s something about creating a log that makes the book’s mine. I still have this impulse, but now I log everything with the GoodReads app (apparently I read 69 books in 2018).
I never lost my love of libraries and am fortunate to be married to a fellow book fiend. Each weekend we go to one of three branches equidistant from our home and return with huge piles of books. On our last visit the librarian said, “I’ve never seen anyone take so many books out at once” as we loaded two carrier bags full. Little did she know that we also have a dozen ebooks checked out on our kindles using the fabulous Libby app.
Library books are like a buffet. You dip into something that looks tasty but if it disappoints after a few pages, toss it on the pile and select something else.
If you’re a library lover too, I strongly urge you to borrow the recent and wonderful The Library Book. It’s focussed on the Los Angeles central library and a fire that engulfed it in 1986. It’s also about the history and future of libraries and is packed with loads of incredible characters, surprising facts, and so many books. And it’s by Susan Orleans (The Orchid Thief, Rin Tin Tin, Saturday Night and more) who writes with such clarity and poetry and wit — and loves libraries as much as we do.