*Bibliophilia is not a Disease

I am currently reading a book called “Browsings” by Michael Dirda. It is a compilation of some fifty columns he wrote for a literary journal called The American Scholar. In those columns he talks “about bookishness”. I gravitate towards books that compile columns, most likely because I write a column and wonder how others who do the same, accomplish that goal. Dirda is like me in many ways. First, he is a Pulitzer Prize winner. I won $22 in the lottery a few months ago. He is a man of letters and accomplishment and has read a lot of the classics. I have a few letters after my name and I have read a lot. I do not think we have the same letters after our name, but maybe. He said in one of his columns that there were times at school when he did not shine. I had some of those times too.

At the end of the book, he writes a goodbye column. In it he reflects on the reasons why he is saying goodbye. And it is comforting to know that this man of distinction (he has written for The Washington Post, the New York Review of books, and had several books published—just to name a few of his accomplishments) has some dark moments when it comes to writing. He gives several reasons for giving up the column: time, money (even though The American Scholar was prestigious it did not pay a lot and he admits to have “low-grade champagne tastes”), and worry. He says that in coming up with a weekly column, “More and more….I worry that my pen has gleaned my teeming brain and that what I produce is weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable.”

I suffer from that same worry. Weary, stale, and flat are not the goals of columnists, but they are the things that niggle us in the night. And during the day. And when we sit down to write. But we must cast away those thoughts or we will be left sitting at our desks in front our computers, and yelling at anyone who happens to breathe a bit loudly in our presence because we cannot come up with an idea for this week’s column. (I think this may have played out on this very premises a few minutes ago—my husband left in a bit of a huff for work, and I have the distinct impression that I am the impetus of his huff.)

Anyway, back to Dirda, and away from my personal drama (something I am going to have to make up for later). In reading his columns I come away feeling just that little bit stupider. Not less intelligent—okay maybe a bit less intelligent, because reading some of his offerings took every little bit of concentration I could muster. Not because he was boring—but because some of his writings are at a level I find challenging. Not to mention the array of books he has read, and I have not. Perhaps you are sensing a bit of jealousy here? Perhaps….but it is a good jealousy if there is any such beast.

Dirda is addicted to used book stores, and the reason he needs more money is to feed that addiction. I understand. I love book stores of any kind, all shapes and sizes, no matter where located.  I have somewhat erratic tastes when it comes to books—and depending on my mood and current interest I tend to be very “whimsical” in my choices. I collect Canadian authors, Canadian poets, local self-published authors, and cookbooks (which I read more than I cook from). I hate romance novels but love romance when it is part of a good story. I love family sagas, memoirs, and almost any book about Paris. And if an author combines a good story with good cooking and recipes, I am in heaven. I used to love mysteries but have moved away from that genre for some reason—though I am still open to a good suspense novel. I have read self-help books up the ying-yang and many of them contain something worthwhile; I read about spirituality and spirits; but horror and sci-fi are not books I am liable to ever open.

Dirda seems to read everything. One of the things I plan on doing with his book is to mark it up with no discretion. Underline the books I want to read, asterisk the books I should read, and proudly covet the books I have read that he appreciates.

Dirda says that “None of us, of course, will ever read all the books we’d like, but we can still make a stab at it.” His advice, which I am going to follow is this: “….see what catches your fancy on a bookshelf….(g)o on—be bold. Be insatiable, be restlessly, unashamedly promiscuous.”

*Bibliophilia: the love of books

Published in: on May 12, 2016 at 2:14 pm  Comments (10)