By Jean Henry Mead
I’ll admit it. I’m a bibliophile.
I love books. Old books, new books, signed books and rare books. They're my most prized possessions. I literally have thousands of books and they’re in every room. We’ve run out of bookcases and many of the ones that have already been read are in boxes, but I can’t bring myself to get rid of them. I’ve had some of them since I was eight and I’m not about to tell you how long ago that was.
Among my many book sources is the Easton Press. My husband would probably strangle me if he knew how much I’ve spent for some of their books. They’re beautifully bound in leather with gilded edges, and how can you not love them? They’re works of art.
Another bibliophile, Anne Fadiman, wrote that people who revere first editions and books with lovely covers, and who worry about people defiling them by writing in the margins, are what she calls “courtly lovers.” She also said that readers “who split open books as if they were ripe fruit, who dog-ear pages and use paperbacks as table mats, are carnal lovers." Which of Fadiman’s categories do you fit into?
I‘ll never be able to leave my current home because it would cost a fortune to move all these books. And what a backbreaking job that would be. I'm reminded of the time I interviewed Louis L’Amour at his southern California home. His huge office contained floor to ceiling hinged bookcases. Behind them were identical bookcases filled with some 10,000 books. I’m sure he was a fellow bibliophile. I was happy to find one of my own books hiding there in one of the lower rows next to a copy of Riders of the Purple Sage. He told me that he once used my nonfiction book for research and that was more gratifying than receiving a signed copy of Walking Drum.
I felt sorry for L’Amour’s housekeeper. Have you ever tried dusting 10,000 books? No wonder librarians are always sneezing. Even my dogs sneeze when I take out my swivel duster. Not that I dust mine every day. Writers need time away from housework, but the temptation to caress my books while I take a break at my desk is irresistible. They’re stacked to both sides of my computer and all along the top in built-in bookcases, just sitting there waiting for me to take them down and open them. Or just run my fingers along their spines. It makes me tingle just thinking about it. Western writer Elmer Kelton once told me that his book collection seems to breed overnight. Bibliophiles are a sensual lot.
I knew my love affair with books had to end when I began tripping over stacks of them on the floor. In a recent moment of weakness, I sold the reprint rights for my historical novel, Escape, to an ebook publisher. I know, how can a bibliophile bring herself to do such a thing? Well, they also produce a print edition, and to tell the truth, it was a blessing in disguise because my husband can now read in the dark while I get some sleep. And some 120 books can be stored in a handheld, back-lighted reader. The best part is that we no longer have to build another room on our house to serve as a library.
I can hear all you bibliophiles out there screaming, “Traitor!” You’ll probably burn me in effigy when you learn that I’ve also sold a second reprint, a mystery novel, to the same publisher. I’ll never live this down.