Thursday, November 13, 2008

I am large, I contain multitudes...

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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?

Why buy? A timely question as we approach the holidays during a recession - says the cynic in me. But I do buy. I love the library, but I love the bookstore more. I grew up using the library. I still use it for DVDs of films, for purely recreational reading, like most mysteries or thrillers. I recently read Christine Falls by Benjamin Black aka John Banville. That book came from the library. I don't read all that many mysteries and I don't tend to value most of them for their writing as I do other genres (although that was an exception). I'm just munching on them like snacks; I don't go to them for nourishment. I am planning to try a few novels of John Updike's that were mentioned in a recent review. Some of his earlier books are no longer in print and when I have tried to read his work before - buying a second-hand copy once in a shop - I didn't care for it and ended up re-selling that book. So in trying Updike on for size, I am going to use the library. But if I end up liking what I read, I will more likely buy future Updike novels.

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.


Beth F said...

Nice answer! The older I get, the more selective I become in my buying.

Anonymous said...

"If I have enjoyed a book and gotten something from it, I want it around me."

I completely agree!

This post is a lovely affirmation about your relationship with books.

SmilingSally said...

I always enjoy your answers. People do abuse. My husband laid blocks (when he was a good bit younger and had a strong back) and people (friends!)--even professionals--always wanted him cheap or free. Here's my answer:

Anonymous said...

It's a source of great regret that I don't own all the books that I have enjoyed over the years - a consequence of much borrowing from friends and a lot of trips to the library. What I have now is a hotch potch books amassed at complete random: gifts, university course requirements, books that were not returned to their original owner (perhaps because I no longer speak to them - though I try not to make a habit of this!). The net result being a collection which is embarrassingly uneven and probably not much better than not having one at all. At 30, is it too late for me turn this around?

Anonymous said...

Books are never rash or mad buys. We get so much from those!

I liked your post!

Must buy!

Anonymous said...

Great answer! I agree that if a book has incurred an influence on me, I've gotta own it. Also I believe that artists should be paid for they do. I have ended up buying my copies even if I have read the ARCs, at least the ones I enjoyed.

I'm always buying books. I buy them because I want to have them, period. I like to maintain a history of my reading over the years. There are so many good literature out there that have been overlooked by readers that after the first, or second printing they will go out-of-print. I'm always buying and preserving what I enjoy reading.

Anne Camille said...

vWhat 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.

Nicely said about the value of an artist's worth!

People who do receive something gratis from an artist friend, --whether a poem, a book, a painting, the privledge of watching/hearing them perform -- should see it for what it is: a gift of value far greater than any pricetag.

Allison M. said...

I buy when the library doesn't have the book, obviously! ;) But also when the library or used bookstore has a sale and the cost is minimal for some good books by an author you love. Otherwise I'd usually just get it from the library!