I’ve asked, in the past, about whether you more often buy your books, or get them from libraries. What I want to know today, is, WHY BUY? Even if you are a die-hard fan of the public library system, I’m betting you have at least ONE permanent resident of your bookshelves in your house. I’m betting that no real book-lover can go through life without owning at least one book. So … why that one? What made you buy the books that you actually own, even though your usual preference is to borrow and return them? If you usually buy your books, tell me why. Why buy instead of borrow? Why shell out your hard-earned dollars for something you could get for free?
I buy books because I value books and by extension the people who create them. I worked as a theatre artist for 23 years, (and may yet have some more blood in me). I always resented people simply expecting free tickets - do they expect free appointments at the dentist or free groceries? What I do as an artist (even the fun stuff) is serious, deeply considered, full of purpose and at times sacrifice, as is any other worthy pursuit. If my culture values it they should pay for it. That is how we show what we value in the American marketocracy. I love books. I prize what they contain as well as how that is fashioned in both a word-follow-word way and in terms of greater structure, voice, point-of-view. I marvel not just at the talent (whatever that is) that goes into their making, but also at the scholarship, the industry, the persistence, the ingenuity, the pieces of self that go into writing a good one. The people who do that work should be paid for it. So should those whose industry supports the producing and dissseminating of books.
I am curious about the world and am an information junkie. I want the information that most intersects with my interests at hand. I am particularly partial to people and their narratives, so I love fiction, drama, and biography. If I have enjoyed a book and gotten something from it, I want it around me. Partly that is so that I can refer to it again. Some books I might go to again for information, others for comfort, sustenance or inspiration. When I directed theatre and opera I needed Anton Chekhov, Clifford Odets, and Horton Foote around me. When I acted and taught I needed the books of the great acting teachers. I needed the biographies of the great composers, directors and actors whose stories could give me something to aspire to, remind me of what was possible, or what is valuable. They are my context. My history. If I do theatre, I build upon the foundations they laid. But also, I want the simple pleasure of their company. Each book contains a whole world in it. I can look at their spines and smile or sigh as I partake of that world again by reference as I pass.
The variety of my interests and they way I apply my intellect to them is a driving force behind my personality, for better or for worse. In that way my home library is also identity constructing. The books around me are part of the narrative of who I am. They house me, they add certain colors and textures materially to my environment, they lend me support, comfort, and provide the information that my work requires that I have at hand, but if they are my context, they also project that context to anyone who sees them. My house if full of shelves and those shelves are full of books because I am full of what they contain. That is who I am. 'I am large, I contain multitudes.' So said Walt Whitman, and so say the books that surround me.