Monday, June 11, 2012

Books once more. 

A recent article asserts that the US had only 500 real bookstores in 1931. What we had, most of us, was libraries, as Ray Bradbury eloquently explains.

" I discovered me in the library. I went to find me in the library. Before I fell in love with libraries, I was just a six-year-old boy. The library fueled all of my curiosities, from dinosaurs to ancient Egypt. When I graduated from high school in 1938, I began going to the library three nights a week. I did this every week for almost ten years and finally, in 1947, around the time I got married, I figured I was done. I graduated from the library when I was twenty-seven. I discovered that the library is the real school."

In my impoverished childhood I (WRD) mainly went to libraries for books. Then when I could, I started acquiring them, big time. Now I have way, way too many. Why have them? I used to say that if I am up until 3 in the morning I can't go to the library. But now there is the Internet, available 24/7.   There are several other reasons--or rationalizations.  I like to mark my books, so as to find particular passages. Then there is object fetishism: I love the way books feel and smell.  Unlike people, they can never up and leave you of their own accord.  Barring a fire or some other disaster, they only clear out when the owner decides that it is time to end the relationship.

OK, fine: there are reasons for having a moderate number of books, but why so many?  I currently have some 14,000.  For this surfeit I blame two estimable figures: Aby Warburg and Jorge Luis Borges.  During the sixties I spent many absorbing hours in the Warburg Library in London, which exemplified Warburg’s ideal of using books to show cultural transmission, so that for Dante, for example, there would be versions in several languages as well as studies documenting the “fortuna” of that author.  Borges’ idea was even more grandiose.  The library should mirror the world.  But doesn’t travel accomplish that purpose?  That is true, and I did quite a bit of traveling.  But books mirror or represent the world in the way that the real world does not.


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