Books and Me

Collect books, even if you don’t plan on reading them right away. Nothing is more important than an unread library.
~John Waters

I must confess, I cannot resist books. When I migrated to Canada nine years ago, I very painfully parted with about 2,000 books, at least, and only because my sister-in-law offered to buy them for her daughter, who wanted to study comparative literature or some such course. Those were only the books I collected, of course, and did not include any books I borrowed or read in libraries. The books I kept with me, following me across the ocean in several boxes were hardbound coffee table books, encyclopedia-types, art books, and my whole collection of dictionaries and writer’s references which I know would be hardest to replace, besides being in constant use and creating an unmatchable reference collection. Since I arrived, I have bought and borrowed dozens more, many of which I’ve read and disposed of by donating here and there or passing on, others I’ve kept in my bookwormy habit in case I want to read them again or simply because I want them around, mostly the fantasy and sci-fi ones, because that’s where my writing feels like going when it finally has the chance. Above all, there is a new shelf slowly filling up with books I acquired because I want to read them—eventually. I have found even less time to read now that I am no longer a student, juggling work, job searching, art, writing, editing, balcony-gardening, cooking, writing, baking, following insanely addictive TV series—because that’s another area I want to explore to take my playwriting—volunteer work, teaching, volunteer teaching, consulting, networking, keeping house (which tends to be very minimal, with so many other things to occupy me), and my cat. Oh, yes. And sleeping. I still always bring a magazine or book in my purse (one reason my purse is always heavier than it needs to be) to read while waiting—for a bus, an appointment, an order, my doctor, etc.—and have about 5 or 6 books in my “next to read” pile under the “currently reading” book on my bedside table. My “books to read” shelf is, of course, next to my other bedside table with its mini bookshelf full of books to read, as well, all within reach of my bed. Once read, the books go back to the spare room which is a library-computer-art-storage room where the tall shelves are, along with a few boxes of books read-and-good-to-donate-because-I’m-not-reading-them-again—basically, contemporary literature, best sellers that are not likely to go classic, and fast lit—my action-adventure-detective-mystery-spy pile which I don’t plan to collect anymore because, at this age, I need to start thinking of unloading so my kids don’t have to swim through tons of book. I’m leaving instructions to have them all donated to a book bank or library or school, if I don’t give them away, swap them, or sell them off first. Whenever possible, I’ll grab the book from our well-stocked bright, airy, air-conditioned public library (nothing like the dark, musty archives of dated, poorly maintained, and skeletal public libraries in the Philippines) because I just don’t need to keep a copy of every book I’ve read (thank goodness for our school library where I grew up—I’d never get all those books to fit into my room!). Nothing compares with the feeling of a book in your hands and the anticipation of discovering what lies between the covers—where you’ll go, whom you’ll meet, what they’ll do. My younger self could stay up all night, night after night, trying to finish a book just because I didn’t want to leave its world. My much older self still wants to do that but finds the call of sleep often more powerful than the call of the printed words, the characters, the worlds I am transported to. Thankfully, those things also come in my sleep, even when I don’t hold a book in my hands. When I die, I want to be buried with a book in my hands—I don’t know which one yet, maybe one I still haven’t read that might entertain me for a while in the afterlife, maybe the one I’ll be holding and trying to finish as I draw my last breath. Ever since I was a child, I’d marvelled at epitaphs people had on their tombstones. I want mine to read “Her life was her book.” I might think of another way to word it, but I’m fine with that for now. I just look forward to that day when I’ll be sitting on some shelf listening in awe to the conversations my books have in that infinite library in the sky.

A great portion of my early book collections were classics, of course. I had a whole bookshelf of literary classics by playwrights from every literary period that ever existed in the Western world, as well as several from the Eastern world. I had every drama by the Greek and Roman playwrights. I had miracle plays and mystery plays from the medieval ages. I had the complete works of Shakespeare—because no self-respecting playwright or literary major would be caught without them! I had Spencer and Marlowe. I had all manner of Victorian drama. I had Reformation drama, Black drama, Edwardian drama. I had absurd plays, which became my favourite. Brecht, Ionesco, Camus, Capek, and Gogol sat side by side with Eliot, Williams, and Wilde. They partied at night while I slept, I’m sure with Simon, Osborne, Stoppard, and Wolfe. G.B. Shaw and Pushkin would heatedly discuss politics with Fitzgerald and Solzhenitsyn. Then Lao Tzu might walk up and calm them while Kikuchi Kan laughed down at them from an upper shelf. In another bookshelf, James Joyce and Yeats might be reminiscing Ireland with Michener on one of his rest stops from his travels, or talk about existentialism with Mishima and Kawabata while Kierkegaard, Kafka, Nietzsche, and Dostoevsky convinced Salinger and Camus to get real. Clavell, Caldwell, and Follett would argue the finer points of medieval architecture with Tolkien, while Carroll and Twain played pranks on Lewis and Auel and London lit a fire under them all. They would all, of course, poke fun at the shelf where Leithold and other unremembered names projected abstractions and other complex formulations while debating the validity of theorems. (After university, that shelf stayed at the bottom, out of reach, isolated, and eventually half-forgotten.) The second most active shelf, of course, was where Yeats, Eliot, Blake, Shelley, Longfellow, Browning, and Wordsworth spun silvery cobwebs around Sappho, Oates, Browning, Lowell, and Dickinson.

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