Every now and then I go through a period when I read books about books or authors writing about other authors. Anne Fadiman's Ex Libris is the perfect book in this genre. Short enough to read in one sitting, but rich enough to make you wish she kept on. Henry Miller wrote a book called The Books in My Life and John Baxter has a new book out titled A Pound of Paper: Confessions of a Book Addict. I also recommend Alan Cheuse's Listening to the Page: Adventures in Reading and Writing.
My take on books has been insignificant so far, but I've been overwhelmed by literature nonetheless.
I made one of my first attempts to articulate my relationship to books in November of 2002. I wrote it in a dream state so it sounds a little immature.
But here it is anyway.
I live amongst books stacked in bookcases in no specific order anymore. They're piled on top of bookcases barely kept afloat by tiny steel butresses. They lie prostrate on the floor, under the bed, in my closet, on my TV and on top the windowsill. Even entering my room can be a challenge for the less agile. If by some chance you're able to open the door, the entrance is only wide enough so one can squeeze through sideways, holding their breath and sucking in their stomach. The space is tight because my bed rests opposite the door protecting my books from potential intruders.
Oh, it's you. Come in, but quick.
Now slowly...and watch your step.
Don't tramp on Balzac! He's had a tough day. Earlier this morning Dreiser fell on him from the top shelf.
And that's Papa Hemingway you hear. He's leaning against Gogol, going on and on about his near death experience and how Victoria Falls was almost the last thing he ever saw. But what a way to go, right?
But Gogol isn't listening and neither is anyone else. On the third shelf, Flaubert is making eyes at Hart Crane; our Hart is making his way across his short bridge of life, recording everything.
Looking down on all of this is Whitman. Perched half way up the mile high bookcase, his beard nearly reaches the floor and it probably would if it weren't for Emerson's head breaching the clouds. Yet the texture of white on white is truly a sight. O captain my captain, I still sing the body electric.
If you can make your way across the crowded room, stepping over Cicero, Milton, Lucretius and Plath, you make your way down a small row where Dickens stretches out around the arm chair at the end.
Jack London guides you to the closet whose doors are perpetually ajar.
Wait! Don't open that!
Ah, oui, oui monsieur. That's Kerouac. Proust can't understand his Quebecois, but nods saintly all the same as Jean-Louis goes on. Allen tries to quiet him, but at the same time he's smiling and actually delighted.
Here in the closet you'll find Melville and Dosty telling each other stories at the same time in different languages in ascending volume and they seem to always understand one another.
None of this seems to bother the triumvirate of Jean Rhys, Virginia Wolfe and Eudora Welty. They've found something in each other that can only be found in literary heaven.
At night, trying to sleep, I tell you I can hear the larger than life Tar Heel, Thomas Wolfe typing away at all hours. His enoromous North Carolina hands pound at the old Royal as sweat swiftly falls upon each page. Still, it doesn't stop him from ripping off one page after another.
Here in my world of books, my world of bound pages, words flow in the everlasting river of literature where Shelley swims ashore to write once more.