Sunday, March 3, 2013
Read and Worn
The other day I looked up at my bookshelves and noticed my worn copy of Gore Vidal's United States: Essays 1952-1992. After multiple readings, eventually the spine broke. This is always the curse of the thick book. Half-way through, at about page 400, the weight of both sides is simply too much for the book to handle. And it splits. I hang on to it though. I plastered the spine with packaging tape to hold it together. It also has plenty of pencil markings, marginalia and post-it notes to mark favorite essays. In every sense of the word, it is "my" book. A used bookstore wouldn't buy it or trade it, and I doubt that the local Goodwill would put it on their shelf and sell it for a buck.
Eventually I realized I wanted a hardback version of his essays. I try -- although I'm not always successful -- to purchase a hardback version of my favorite books, and if possible (i.e., if I can afford it and there's room) a first edition. My hardback version is spotless, save for a small mark on the dustjacket, which I've protected from further damage with a clear laminate. But I've never read it. I'm still attached to my old worn paperback copy with packaging tape. It is my working copy, my reading copy. And I realize something after staring at the two books for a few seconds. That I bought the hardback copy as a backup. I enjoy the book so much that I'd hate the idea of not finding a another copy if "mine" couldn't be held together by packaging tape.
But this is foolish. Vidal's Essays aren't rare. I realized however, that if you enjoy a book enough, you know others will discover its strength and beauty. The fear of never reading it again because it is no longer available is irrational -- particularly in the age of electronic readers. So when I bought that second copy a few years ago, I knew then, through some slow process, that I cared about developing and building my personal library. There's simply some books that I had to have on my shelf, for myself...always.