Jabir the Brilliant at fourteen could arrange
Sounds so they became holy. Friends, each day
I crawl over and kiss some of the books I love. – Robert Bly, from his poem, The Trap Door
A friend once asked, “Why do you keep all of these books in your house? Do you expect to read them again, or do they only serve as trophies?” He was encouraging me to donate the collection that had been started when I was a teenager, and to proclaim determination to begin taking books out from the library instead of the store. While in full agreement with my intelligent minimalist friend, I couldn’t fully act upon his advice. However, the “trophy” comment hit me hard enough to make my book collection (and me) feel a bit silly. Eventually I bought storage bins and sadly, but with resolve, sealed up tubs filled with books and brought them to the basement. The emptied book shelves were cheap and falling apart anyway, and with the move I had more space and less of my past interests and pursuits (and poetry) staring at me and beckoning from the stacks. I kept a small bookshelf in the bedroom for books that I needed to read on a daily/weekly basis, but the bulk of the books were banished to the basement. I would often miss them and think about all the bright and invigorating ideas dormant down in the dark. At times I would want to reach to clarify an idea, but the book containing it was packed up well beyond easy grab and glance. I adopted the stance that the essence of those books was distilled and contained in my brain somehow, and that the point of study was embodiment after all….but all the while (and for many years) I had a feeling that something of the educated heart of my house had been relegated to silent darkness.
This past spring another long-time friend and interior designer decided to gift my family a blind redesign of our home and garden. I use the words “blind redesign” because I had no idea what she was going to do regarding colors or room arrangement. All kinds and colors of outdoor garden flowers are fine and beautiful to my mind, but each day there would be a fresh, new, and sometimes unsettling surprise when I arrived home, opened the front door, and entered the house. I think my wife knew a bit more about the plan in advance, but for me (who can be psychologically influenced by interior colors) it was a leap into a type of forced faith, and a surrender of sorts. Although very different from the way I would have done things, all the rooms turned out lovely…and as time goes on even things that were unsettling have become comfortable and beautiful. One of the changes I liked immediately was the appearance of large white bookshelves in the room that we had dedicated to the kids for play when they were little (both are in college now).
I suppose I don’t need to say much more at this point to tell how this tale ends. As you can most likely guess, one of the best things I did this summer was to bring up those tubs of books from the basement. Like a child at Christmas (the most magical of my youthful holidays), I excitedly opened book bins and delighted in the titles and covers and colors of all my old companions. I honored the handsome hard and paperback books and the enlightening ideas, authors, and thinkers that I love as I arranged and proudly displayed them on our new bookshelves in our home office. I expect to read parts of most of my many books again, and I am proud of my paper and ink trophies won along this ever unfolding journey of questioning, experiencing, reflecting, rejecting, embracing, honoring, and embodying.
Let’s offer a welcoming salute to September and to the dear friends, teachers, and authors who enter the libraries/stories of our lives to question, redesign, remind, and replenish…and a cheer as well to the idea of “kissing the books we love.”
May we each enjoy a seamless and pleasant transition between the joys of summer reading (perhaps with sunglasses on the beach) to the often more serious approach found in our increasingly lamp-lit autumn studies on the living-room couch. September has arrived, new ideas are afoot, and there is so much more to learn, experience, and share.
See you in class!
Director, Lexington Community Education
The places I see again and books I reread smile on me by seeming fresh and new. – Michel de Montaigne