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The Book Was Never About Kerouac.

Writing about his book collection (and book collecting) Walter Benjamin said, "What I am really concerned with is giving you some insight into the relationship of a book collector to his possessions, into collection rather than a collection. If I do this by elaborating on the various ways of acquiring books, this is something entirely arbitrary. This or any other procedure is merely a dam against the spring tide of memories which surges toward any collector as he contemplates his possessions. Every passion borders on the chaotic, but the collector's passion borders on the chaos of memories. More than that: the chance, the fate, that suffuse the past before my eyes are conspicuously present in the accustomed confusion of these books."

A book equals a memory, but not just one memory. Inside a book there exists the memory of reading, be it the lies that are told in fiction, or mix of truth and lie in history, or the relational truth of a guide, which is true in that, in that case of a recipe, it will produce the product it says if done correct, but there are other options, other truths. But each book also functions as a memory to the outside world, to something that the owner has had happen in his/her life. (For the rest of this post, I'm just going to slip out of being gender correct and use he, because I'll be referring to me, even when it may not seem that way. Everything in this blog is my opinion anyway, something I think people should try to remember upon occasion.)

I am a hoarder when it comes to books. I know a lot of people out there who can take their read things to second hand book stores and get a bit of cash for them. Or they can put them up on ebay, which has replaced the musty, old book smelling second hand bookstore that is tucked behind or below something. I suspect that, eventually, second hand stores will become a curiosity, connected more to finding editions with cloth bindings by Sir Edmond Barry in the late eighteen hundreds, than with trashy paperbacks bought on the cheap and quick. That'll be a shame, I think, because I love the cellars that a lot of second hand stores appear in. There's one on George Street in Sydney, close to Chinatown and surrounded by porn stores, and with an opening that looks just like the latter. If it wasn't for the wire bin of books out the front that I'm sure the owner wants people to steal, you'd probably think it was more pornography than it was literature (not that the two can't be connected). When you walk down the old stairs and into the shop, you find that it is, really, a long cellar, with exposed pipes running along the ceiling. The sound of water dripping echoes through the entire store. When I was last in there, the Asian guy at the counter had his shiny laptop open and it was completely out of place in all the browns and yellows and drip drip drips of the store.

But, as I said, I'm a hoarder. I like to go into second hand bookstores, but I don't sell my books at them (and I only buy if it's out of print). The couple of times I've done it, I'm always been impressed by the lack of money I've got (it's never been enough to help when I'm skint--better to sell CDs, or old furniture and things in the trading post or online), but mostly, I've always felt as if I've sold off a memory, even an unwanted one. An unwanted memory being, of course, a novel that was absolutely awful, or a book that told me some tragedy didn't happen. Mostly, however, the memories I'd consider trading off belong to the boxes of old fantasy novels I consumed when I was a teenager. Beautiful girls with swords and farm boys who are a bit on the plain side but get to shag all night at the end.

I won't sell them, though. It's true that I'll never read Raymond Feist's Magician again, just as there are countless others, such as Terry Brooks and Terry Pratchett and Tad Williams, and a lot of other writers beginning with 'T'. At the time I enjoyed the books, but they've no real interest for me now. There's a quota of quests and lost princes and big epics that I reached somewhere around eighteen, maybe a bit after, and there'll be no more. It's all noise to me now, and I don't need it. But those books, kept in their opaque plastic contains, pushed into the back of a garage, and covered in dust and dirt and other mess left by mice and birds flying though the roof, hold memories. The memories of school holidays where I had no money and spent my time reading and swimming in the neighbours pool and meeting girls. There's also the memories of school, and the books you'd talk to your friends about, and swap, and again, led to girls. I always liked girls with books, and there are books that I read because of a girl, and which are now connected to the memory of her in a slippery mix of sex and literature.

I don't spend much of my time thinking about the past. It's just not my thing. But those books hold all the memories, and just the physical presence of each is a connection to something in my head, a link in my brain that reminds me of some time, some place, some person, real and fake. New books promise new connections, and old books are connections I don't want to give up, which is what makes me the kind of guy who will forever been pulling crates of paper along with him, until he dies. Occasionally, I joke that all those books will be used to burn my body, and I like the idea, having my physical thing burnt up by the physical objects that connected my memories to each other. I don't think anyone is going to have much interest in the books I have when I die, so they won't be missing anything, and besides which, I have a bit of selfishness when it comes to books. I rarely lend and I'm possessive, so part of me thinks it's fitting for them to burn up with me. If at the time anyone wants a copy of Kerouac's On the Road, they can find their own and then find a girl/boy to link to it, because mine is taken up.

Burning, burning, burnt up and gone.

In the same essay, Benjamin also wrote, "Writers are really people who write books not because they are poor, but because they are dissatisfied with the books which they could buy but do not like. You, ladies and gentlemen, may regard this as a whimsical definition of a writer. But everything said from the angle of a real collector is whimsical."


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Jun. 17th, 2005 04:04 am (UTC)
and here i was thinking of what books i will sell during my winter holidays.

you gave my books feelings and you beautifully articulated the relationship between the reader and their book. screw derrida and his author-reader relationship, it's the reader-book relationship that counts

Jun. 17th, 2005 04:25 am (UTC)
yeah, i've never much been into the author side. for me, authors represent a chance to screw up a book i really like. it's why i avoid them.
Jun. 17th, 2005 05:52 am (UTC)
> There's one on George Street in Sydney, close to Chinatown and surrounded by porn stores

I know that one... a long, shabby, book mauseoleum full of obscure history texts and 1970s books about macrame (which describes about 95% of all secondhand bookshops, I suppose). But the SF section at the back often contains a few dusty gems. I've picked up a few good books there, like collections by Waldrop or Disch. It's a good shop, that one.
Jun. 17th, 2005 09:24 am (UTC)
i've never found much in it. i just like the way it looks and smells and feels. sometimes i'm like that.
Jun. 17th, 2005 08:56 am (UTC)
I have the same problem, I am a book hoarder. Mr Tanuja can sell his books or give them away, I can't. I've got books that I will never ever read again (step forward "Olivia Joules") but I can't find it in myself to part with them. I blame my obsession on the fact that for the longest time I was an only child (my brother is 10 years younger) and on days/evenings when my parents were entertaining their friends, books became my escape and my friends. Even now, I'm rarely without a book.

I love second hand bookshops, but at the moment I've been banned from going into them because we're a little tight for cash and I can't resist buying yet anohther one for our house. I love browsing in them and then the thrill of finding a book you didn't know you wanted until you see it.
Jun. 17th, 2005 09:25 am (UTC)
yeah, i know that same thrill.

my big weakness is online shopping. i love finding obscure book publishers who are doing interesting or odd titles, and buying one. i love the package. the opening. i'm not so keen on the credit card bill later...
Jun. 17th, 2005 01:11 pm (UTC)
I'm a hoarder too. I manage to part with a few. I've had to, because my rate of accumulation and my age are intersecting at a pace in which my house could tumble down if I don't occasionally give away a box to the library. I never sell books--I always give them to the library if I get rid of them.

I do lend. Somehow, I feel like I get more of my money's worth if someone else reads it and enjoys it too. I've lost books this way but I am Okay with it. I don't however lend it if it enters that "special" category in my mind.

I really related to keeping the stuff that I loved when I was younger. I lost some of those though a few years ago by putting them in the basement which at the time had no dehumidifier, so they swelled up and got yellow. It was very sad.

Nice post. :-)
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