Realising that my book collection must be finite due to the space it's contained in is akin to becoming truly aware of death. The reality of both has been ever-present, yet not fully acknowledged. This must be how we survive daily life. Those facts may also act as motivational forces, of course, which drive us to make the very best of things, to live as best we can and seek the finest books. Conversely, according to one's psychological make-up, they may render both Life and collecting books meaningless, a waste of time, since both must have an end.
My room is in disarray due to forthcoming works on the damp and cracked walls. I sit here at a desk that has been repositioned to accommodate the work, facing a wall instead of the window, with some books piled wherever there is space whilst their former shelf-mates inhabit another room. The forced disordering of the collection seems to have also sparked a disordered state of mind, as if I am tuned in to them and cannot help but reflect their state of existence.
Andy Warhol's words about space are typically amusing. He says '...everyone should live in one big empty space' and goes on to admire the Japanese tendency to store everything in cupboards before saying 'But I wouldn't even have the cupboards, because that's hypocritical'. He suggests that if you must have a closet, and live in New York, 'it should be, at the very least, in New Jersey...you don't want to feel you're living next door to your own dump.'
Space as an aesthetic experience is interesting, but in a home I would find it dull. I could never be one of those minimalist types who inhabit largely white spaces in which hardly a thing is visible because all moveable objects are stored in fitted cupboards. I'm not sure those people really exist, except in adverts and design magazines. In such spaces, the kitchen for instance, one crumb of bread on the work surface would have a devastating effect. Besides, space for most city-dwellers is not an option. We Londoners in the lower financial bracket are lucky to have a room, never mind room to create a minimalist environment.
LJ and I talk about space a lot right now due to the works that are about to be done. We argue about the merits of 'things', those things being my books, usually, but also clothes that the moths get more use out of than us. I am not so fanatical about collecting books that I cannot see her points about those I possess. Yet I still struggle to acknowledge that I can only ever own a limited amount.
Over the years space for more books has been constantly created by selling those which are finally deemed unnecessary. Book-lovers all have them; those which we've been intending to read for years but never have and those we've read and will not read again but still keep. On the plus side, the disruption and subsequent movement of all these books forces me to reassess their value. On the negative side, I don't want to have to do that.
Amid all the books piled on other books, ironically, there are books on books, of course, which I would quote from but they're buried and hidden under all the other books. Jorge Luis Borges said it all: 'Sometimes, looking at the many books I have at home, I feel I shall die before I come to the end of them, yet I cannot resist the temptation of buying new books.' Does he live with a woman, I wonder? I should qualify that before you think I'm being sexist; does he live with a woman who does not collect books? I doubt it. I imagine Borges as the solitary type, the fierce intellectual surrounded by ancient, obscure literature.
Jeanette Winterson said it even better: 'Book collecting is an obsession, an occupation, a disease, an addiction, a fascination, an absurdity, a fate. It is not a hobby. Those who do it must do it. Those who do not do it, think of it as a cousin of stamp collecting, a sister of the trophy cabinet, bastard of a sound bank account and a weak mind.'
I have no books by Jeanette Winterson, but she is spot-on in what she says. To non-collectors, books are simply objects taking up space. They may as well be stamps, or dolls, or shoes, all of which, I have no doubt, also involve some emotional investment of behalf of their collectors. Perhaps not shoes. Or handbags, although serious collectors of both will say differently when brandishing a prized vintage item.
Yet there are times when I do feel like giving them all away. How wonderful it would be to simply leave, say, Bob Howard's Hollywood Sex God on a park bench, retire to a safe distance and observe people's reactions upon finding it. Any takers? I wonder. Sun Ra's Immeasurable Equation left on a bus, perhaps. The thought of it being left for the cleaner to throw in a rubbish bag is unbearable.
In a few days they will be reunited with each other although, to be honest, there will be a few less of them. I concede that, for us to continue living here, there has to be a little more space in the place.