There’s nothing as titillating as a good piece of graffiti. Just yesterday, I found one scrawled on the whiteboard in my classroom written, no doubt, by some sophomoric freshman. It read “We’re at the mercy of a crazed bibliophile!” It’s true, I’ve been known to kiss books (rather ardently) in class and converse at length with photographs of authors. I am guilty, on all accounts, of bibliophilia.
My condition started early with P.D. Eastman’s “Are You My Mother?” Countless times I hoisted it onto the circulation desk of the East Branch library, borrowing it as often as policy allowed. I think it was the happy ending that drew me in: after being denied by the cow, the dog, the cat, the boat, the plane and the snort, baby bird finally finds his mother. I guess books have always given me a sense of home, of belonging, of metaphorically finding my mother.
My mother’s steadfast advice to us growing up was “use the library.” A family of eight children on one teacher’s income left no room for buying books, and so we used the library. That didn’t satisfy me, though, and soon I was secretly spending my paper route money on Scholastic booksales at school. In college, I became a bookstore junkie, and my rebellion piqued in adulthood as my remodeling mantra became: “more bookshelves!”
But of course, an obsession with books is really an obsession with words, and I keep my favorites within a thought’s reach. When I encounter someone claiming a monopoly on truth, Oscar Wilde reminds me that “The truth is rarely pure and never simple.” When the tumultuous state of the world leaves me feeling tiny and powerless, I reach for the closing line of Cloud Atlas: “For what is any ocean but a multitude of drops?” And with these borrowed words, I feel not only capable, but duty-bound to say what I think and do what I can.
I believe that particular books find you when you need them, and if you read with intention, they direct your life’s journey. I can hardly believe, for example, that it was sheer coincidence that my husband and I were reading the same book when we met.
A friend of mine recently feng shuid our home, advising us to remove the bookshelves from our bedroom. She explained that with their words floating around the room at night, books prevent restful sleep. I sometimes wake at night, startled, but then, my husband beside me, my son upstairs, and my books surrounding me, it’s clear that life couldn’t be more perfect, and I quickly fall back asleep. And so, the books are staying as long as I’m staying. And when I die, put my ashes in a hollowed-out book and set me on the bookshelf with Yossarian, Algernon, Adah, Isabelle Archer, and Robert Frobisher. And rest assured, the crazed bibliophile will be at peace.
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