That is the thing about books. They let you travel without moving your feet,’ wrote Jhumpa Lahiri. With another session about to commence in college, I decided to organise my bookshelves. As I picked up a book the thrill and memories it brought to my mind made me rethink of not keeping it. I realised that I didn’t simply read Pride and Prejudice or Crime and Punishment, I read a certain edition, a specific copy, recognisable by the roughness and smoothness of its paper, by its scent, by a slight tear on page 42 and a coffee ring on the right-hand corner of the cover, not to mention the notes scribbled here and there.
Is this the same book I held in my hands faraway and long ago? Each reading experience is unique to its place and time, and can’t be duplicated. No library can be fully resurrected.
How truly the dilemma of to keep or not to keep is described by Leah Price in Unpacking My Library Writers & Their Books, ‘To compose a bookshelf is to compose a self’. It is not just a pastime but a compulsion to be nudged down reading memory lane, to pick up tips on what to read or reread next, to sail along on the ongoing and never-ending process of profiling our own changing reading shelves. That is why the task, as anyone who has moved home or hostel knows too well, can get overwhelming when we have to pack away even a few books.
One of my teachers suggested a generous selfishness, ‘Don’t lend a book just give it as you’ll never get it back.’ My problem is I buy more than I can read so there is always a big margin between what I own and what I’ve read. I have a separate bookshelf of ‘unread books’ I want to read some time soon. And those I have read have my own intellectual and literary trajectory visible before me, parting from them seems impossible. So, as Kondo suggests, don’t put all your books on the floor, but only to place them right back on the shelves to find out how the process of reassembling helps you know yourself a bit more.
My parents inculcated in me the love for books, find in them ways to understand the world, myself, others, a way to leave the world, a way to return to the world; more human than I left. In my twenties, bookshops and libraries were the places I loved. Jane Austen, Bronte sisters, Wordsworth, Keats and Shakespeare made my nights sleepless. Even now, each reading of the same text is always a learning experience.
If the present-generation parents want their children to leave the mobile and pick a book, they should themselves sit with them, read with them, make them feel moments of emotions and elation. When you step out of time, make time for them, then the book will not be alien to them and words wouldn’t seem like impositions.
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