Monday, October 11, 2010

High Drama in the Land of the Book Fetish

My boyfriend Ben and I have shared an interest in literature for as long as we’ve known each other. We both work in related fields (book and magazine publishing) and though we share an apartment that is appropriately small for two young people living in New York (we don’t even have room for a dinner table) we’ve managed to cram in three floor to ceiling bookshelves that are currently overflowing. There is one book related point, however, on which the two of us diverge: the extent to which we revere the physical book itself, as opposed to just its contents.

I’ve never been much of a journaler, and over the years my books have become a way to mark time and record important events. Years after I read a book I’ll remember that moment of finishing the last line and closing the book in satisfaction or disappointment and recall where I was, be it on a bus in Costa Rica, a plane ride home to Ohio, or a subway car to work or a party that later proves particularly fun. After enough time passes, what I won’t be able to recall is the date, the month, or even the year that those events and those book closings occurred (as Cesare Pevase said “We do not remember days, we remember moments”). So, I’ve taken to writing the time, date, and place that I finish a book, as well as any memorable or milestone moments that occurred right before or after. When I finished The Patterns of Paper Monsters on the way back from a college friend’s wedding I wrote a list of my Kenyon friends who made it and stuck my name card from the wedding in the middle of the book. I’ll open a book years after reading it and find a ticket stub from a movie or a plane ride and be taken right back. When I find myself without paper I use the margins of whatever book I’m reading to compose to do lists or write down blog ideas I have. My books, in short, become physical tributes to the personal eras in which I read them.

Though Ben reads at least as many books as I do, his relationships with his books are considerably more fleeting. At least once a month he hightails it to the Strand to swap out whatever bundle of books he’s just completed for spending money. When I ask him if he’s ever sad to not have favorite books on hand he cites a list he keeps of all the books he’d like to one day own when financial and spatial considerations allow him the luxury. His lack of physical or sentimental attachment to his books pervades his approach to and organization of our book shelves to the extent that, nervous that he might one day mistake a first edition of a book I worked on or a favorite novel no longer in print for one of his books, I childishly separated all of my favorite books from his.

Meanwhile, in a mental region far, far away, I remain addicted so the highly dramatic (and unrealistic) soap opera-esuqe show Gray’s Anatomy. This might sound related to the divide between Ben’s book ethos and my own, but last night I discovered that this is not wholly the case. About a week ago, when I finished Philip Roth’s Goodbye, Columbus the somber ending of the book and the corresponding mood it had put me in lent a real Debbie Downer air to my routine act of looking up at the nearest clock and recording the time. There was something vaguely familiar about that silent, respectful pause to take in the severity and epicness of the book’s ending before looking at the clock but, unable to pinpoint what it resembled immediately I just recorded the data and went about my day. Last night I watched an episode of Gray’s in which a young woman dies right in front of her four year old daughter after surviving a fire. Her injuries were extremely treatable but because of intern error they kept getting worse and worse. Due to the chaos that ensued as her condition intensified, by the time she finally died almost all of the interns were working on her (i.e. potentially responsible) and when the dreamy head of surgery demanded that “someone call the time of death” they all looked down in an effort to avoid that duty. It was in that slight, somber pause that I recognized my own behavior when recording the “time of death” of my favorite books. Yes, my approach to sad books and recording their intersection with my life has become comparable to a ridiculously over dramatic show about people dying horribly. Deciding that I need to get a life, I immediately resigned that I would change my habits where book endings and book retention are concerned. Perhaps the organization of all the books that have colored my life need not be taken as seriously as I have been.

Don’t tell Ben he’s right, but I may need to make a trip to the Strand some time this week.

1 comment:

  1. funny! yes, there is a difference between the death of a patient and finishing a book! you can always read the book again...