Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Rolli, On Reading

"The love of my life - wife, mistress, concubine - has always been - books. I am, unashamedly, a promiscuous, polygamous, adulterous lover of books. I've taken to bed a different book every night of my life. Apologies, of course, to those who can (and do) read the same shop-worn soft cover for twenty or thirty years at a stretch, but I could never manage it.

I love the figure of a well-made book, the texture. I never take up a book without cracking it down the middle first, and taking a good whiff. Age is unkind to books in every respect except odor. The older the better, here, with the oldest smelling, I find, of spice cake, or watered-down rum. The scent of thousands of books together is - narcotic.

My mania for books and reading started early. By age 20, my personal library exceeded two thousand volumes - a number some bibliophiles would sniff at, but to me seemed like the whole Bodleian crammed into a modest four-bedroom. There were books in cupboards and closets, on tables, under them, in piles lining the walls. It was never surprising to come across a volume or two between sofa cushions, in a flowerpot, to come tumbling out of a liquor cabinet. I more than once found a book in the Frigidaire.

Suffice it to say, amongst so much fine reading material, there was practically no room for me. So little that, exasperated, I came close to tying up a few essentials on the end of a stick - Boswell's Life of Dr. Samuel Johnson, Bleak House, and one or two others - and turning vagabond. It was the thought of all those books going untouched and unappreciated, alone, that saved me from vagrancy.

If books have been my life, they've very nearly been my death (and may be yet, who knows). A good host, I'm occasionally obliged to sleep on the floor, and make room for guests. With memorable results, this is just what happened one Christmas Eve. Of course, family begged me not to - the room in question sported two leaning towers of bookcases notorious for toppling over without warning - but I, the good host, insisted. 'It's perfectly safe,' I said, with a dismissive wave of the hand, trying hard not to show my trepidation. And as I lay there, late at night, in my sleeping bag, precarious shadow-mountains of books all around me, I'll confess - I was afraid. But I soothed myself, tallied up the probabilities, and satisfied, at last, nodded off. And then, at half-past three in the morning ... a crash ... then another ... then a deep, muffled scream. Of course, everyone knew what must've happened, and came rushing in from every direction - to start digging. What could've easily been an exhumation proved a rescue, fortunately, when they pulled me from the rubble, bruised and shaken, but still very much alive. It wasn't so bad, all things considered. I was unconscious for the initial avalanche; and the week of bed rest that followed gave me plenty of time to catch up my reading. A few scars still remain, 'potent reminders,' friends tell me, of the dangers of bibliomania. In fact, if you look very closely, you can still see HAMLET branded on my right cheek.

Thankfully, the fever to hoard has abated some in recent years; and while I read as much as ever, don't bother snatching up every book in sight, and storing them in the fireplace, or the garden shed, like some dotty squirrel. I've even paired down the collection, giving away, selling, and tossing out masses of volumes. I'm happy with my condensed library of a thousand-or-so indispensable favorites. They should be enough for a lifetime of reading. But I'll have to start right now."

Rolli is the author/illustrator of the acclaimed poetry/art book Plum Stuff (8th House Publishing), and the forthcoming gothic novel-in-poems Mavor's Bones. Visit his website here and follow him on Twitter here.}

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