I’ve always been a reader, even before I “learned” to read. Words on pages attracted me probably as much as illustrations because I understood the illustrations. Letters were enigmas, words were a mystery. As soon as I learned to know the first, the second quickly became clear. So my vocation began.
My reading has always been wide and undisciplined. When I discover a writer, I want to read everything published. If it is fiction I will search out an author’s entire output, trying to read in the order in which the books were published. That way I tend to grow with the writer and at the very least, understand references that may appear several books or stories later. Sometimes a work of fiction will lead me to explore the subject in a wider window of historical writing about a period or character. And always, reading takes me closer to knowledge, to being “smart.” To knowing something others may not. Sometimes, too, I can even contribute an original thought to the universal knowledge stream.
We both still indulge in adding books to our own library, but not as often. For one thing, our home library has run out of space. When we built this house a quarter of a century ago, we set aside one room for books. They are shelved floor to ceiling on nearly every wall. There is a piano against one wall, and four windows and two doors, but there are shelves over those and under the windows, too. And there are stacks of books on the floor, waiting for room. Books in baskets in other rooms. Books on shelves in my office, in my wife’s studio/office, in my workshop and garage, and even a few in outbuildings. Part of this year’s work plan is to add more shelves.
About once or twice a year we decide to cull books we no longer want. We even have one shelf that is for books we are going to donate or sell or just dispose of. That shelf is getting crowded because while we add books, we seldom remove any. We also promise each other that “this year we’ll reorganize the shelves.” By that we mean we plan to put all the fiction books, by author, in one place, history in another, technical books, travel books, poetry, art, photography, filmmaking, gardening and so on in discrete areas. We did that when we first unpacked our books here, but somehow that hasn’t been followed. Books lie flat on top of others, shelves under tables hold all of a particular author or genre, and we rely on memory more than organization to find a book we know we have.
Aside from our work spaces, the library is where we spend most of our “together time.” the chairs on either side of the small fireplace, our reading lamps, our current reading stacks enclose us in a zone where the world intrudes only on our terms. It’s one of the few places in the house without a telephone. It is a place where rather than working, we continue our pursuit of knowing. And when one knows, knowledge follows.
Books make us smart, but it is reading, not owning, that makes that happen.