Thursday, October 28, 2004


Anne Lamott has a quote that goes something like "books are good like the ocean is good." (I'm paraphrasing. My copy of Bird by Bird seems to be lost in a book drift around here somewhere... ) That's the kind of thinking I like.

When I first moved away to college, I couldn't take all my books with me. Mom mailed a box of books to me that arrived at my dorm room a couple of weeks after I arrived. Lining up Catcher in the Rye and the Once and Future King on the shelf above my bed, I felt I'd finally made the dorm room into someplace liveable. Having my books around, I just felt better.

Seeing someone's book collection, I get the sense I know the person. Once I moved in with a roommate who had Wallace Stegner's All the Little Live Things on her shelf. We became good friends right away. When Randy and I began dating, I noticed right away that Randy not only had a lot of books around his apartment, but he'd built his own bookshelfs, too. This seemed like it might come in handy if our relationship lasted. Randy's well-worn collection of Foundation and Dune books amazed me, because he'd obviously read the books over and over.

I remember once reading a classmate's copy of C.S. Lewis' Till We Have Faces. In this book, Lewis turns a Greek myth into an exploration of human love and selfishness. The classmate followed the protagonist's struggle with her plain appearance throughout the book, making notes in the margins along the way and picking up nuances I'd have missed myself. Reading her margin notes throughout the book, I felt that I was understanding the book better and getting to know my classmate, too.

A recent article I found in Arts and Letters Daily celebrates the good book. The article is entitled "My Own Private Library," which is a great title. The author is an English professor of the best sort, the kind that is in love with reading and collecting books. This gentleman has spent a small fortune gathering his favorites, and his article gives plenty of reasons for the rest of us to follow his "gentle madness."

I like his final conclusions about his choice of profession: "At bottom, I suspect I am a scholar because I am a bibliophile rather than the other way around." That's a great reason to become a college professor, and it is as fair a description of why I enjoy working at a community college as any I can invent myself.

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