Book Lust

August 30, 2007

A room without books is like a body without a soul.
                 — Marcus Tullius Cicero, 106 BCE – 43 BCE
                     Roman orator

I have a lot of books. Ask anyone who’s been to my house. Every room has a place to keep books and a place to read them. Books fill both built-in bookshelves (twenty feet floor to ceiling in one room) and free-standing bookcases. The Christmas books are in a basket that never gets put away (although I do remove the red and green bow sometime around Valentine’s Day, if I remember). The books I am currently reading or planning to read are in a basket beside my kitchen workspace and stacked on a small table in the living room.

My bookshelves don’t look like the ones in decorating magazines, where the designer has placed a well-shaped vase on a shelf and then arranged beside it four or five books almost as an accessory. My shelves have books from one end to the other. Books that don’t fit anywhere else wind up in piles (sometimes neat piles) on the floor or on tables. When I joined Library Thing, an online database that allows you to catalogue your books, I immediately bought a lifetime membership that allows unlimited titles. I exceeded the 200 I could have on a free account before I was finished with the books (mostly writing instruction and reference) in my study alone.

I continue to unpack, physically and emotionally, from my trip to the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. I’ve brought in everything from the car except my two crates of manuscript notebooks and journals. (No, I did not use a single page while I was on the mountain, but it just feels good to have them there. I have no idea what I’m going to do about my apparent need for those materials when I fly to Wyoming in November.) Yesterday I inventoried the swag I carried back — beautiful Vermont yarns to work with and a red knit hat to wear out west and t-shirts and socks by local artists and (yes!) some books intended for gifts. Today I catalogued (and stacked on the floor beside my desk because there is as yet nowhere else to put them) the books I bought for myself.

I still live by the academic calendar, and Bread Loaf in August marks the transition from the old year to the new in terms of my writing and reading. I’ve put up a list of the books I bought in Vermont. All but three are by people who were faculty or teaching fellows at the conference. Of the others, two caught my eye in a bookstore in Brandon, Vermont, and one, about the spirituality of knitting, came from a new age book shop in Woodstock, New York.

Will I read all those books before my next foray to the Bread Loaf book store, empty now and waiting for next year’s faculty titles? Probably not, although I have good intentions. For fiction I’ll start with the novel and story collection by my wonderful 2007 workshop leader, Stacey D’Erasmo, and the fellow who worked with her, Bret Anthony Johnston. In nonfiction I’ll start with Annick Smith’s memoir of homesteading in Montana and Debra Marquart’s chronicle of growing up in North Dakota, because I’m going out there in just ten weeks. Beyond that I won’t really plan, because my interests and moods are just too organic to plot things out so deliberately.

Before I start anything new, however, I have to finish the last book from my summer list, Lucy Grealy’s Autobiography of a Face. I started it because I had it in my collection and it came to my attention from reading about Ann Patchett’s controversial book about her friendship with Grealy. And if I’m going to read that, then I have to read Grealy’s own book, and then . . .

That’s what I mean by organic.

My new Year of Reading and Writing Seriously starts next week.