22 December 2006

Best Part of a Book

I finished reading John Irving's Prayer for Owen Meany on Tuesday and am now happily starting in on Kiran Desai's The Inheritance of Loss , a hard cover copy of the Booker Prize winner that the boyfriend gave me. When I finish a book, I add it to the list in the back of my journal. When I finish the journal, I transcribe the list into a (ridiculous) journal I keep that is simply a list of books. All this happened when I finished Owen Meany. Last night, I opened the Desai and got started on it. In between, I wondered, is the best part of a book the beginning or the end, the moment before you read it or the moment you close it for the last time?

I think the pre-reading phase depends on what kind of book person you are. There seem to be two types of book people. One is the library reader. These folks are either voracious readers or just sensible enough to not want piles and piles of books in their house. They probably also realize that it's pure frivolity to spend money on something that you are only going to use once, takes up space, collects dust, and is notoriously difficult to move overseas. These people are potentially sensible enough to not have and emotional bond with their unread books. The other type is the book keeper. There are several variations on this type, but I think they all relate emotionally to unread books.

I'm a used book collector and new book coveter. I adore new books and think that a brand new hardcover is true decadence. I remember the first hardcover book I bought for myself, Allan Gurganus' Plays Well with Others. In the fall of 1997, he gave a reading at the University of Chapel Hill and that Christmas I got a bookstore gift certificate. Gurganus' novel was a way to really spoil myself and it had great cover art, too. Now, you can get it used on Amazon for $0.06, what a joke.

The used book collector is the part that trolls thrift store and used bookstores and actually finds used bookstores a wee bit over priced. It's the part that buys anything by P.G. Wodehouse and stuffs a shelf with a double row of books to read. No one with a double row of books to read (and that's only fiction) needs to buy any books at all! And yet, this month, I bought more books. There's the Marx for Beginners that a friend told me about. It was written by Rius, who is apparently a quite well known Mexican comic-strip-drawing-type. Last weekend I picked up Amy Tan's The Bonesetter's Daughter and a book called Dealing with the Dutch that might be useful for work. Both were at the thrift store.

This is the pre-reading joy of books. It's a time when looking at them and thinking about what they might contain is exciting. Having a shelf of books to choose from when you finish a book is both luxurious and daunting. Luxurious because you can pick something to suit your mood; daunting because you know that you shouldn't buy any books with that many sitting at home. I have even had to thin the books-not-read shelf in order to make room for more books that I haven't read yet. That means I sent books back to a thrift store. Some of them came from a thrift store in the US and got sent to a thrift store in the Netherlands. It may very well have cost more to ship them than to buy them!

So there's the joy of having a book that you haven't read yet on one side and there's the satisfaction, or sometimes the disappointment, of finding out just what was between the covers on the other side. There is a ritualistic quality to both, especially for someone odd enough to keep and maintain a books-not-read shelf. I suppose it makes sense to save the in-between part for another post. But I'm curious what other people think, or if they think at all, about this. What is the best part of a book for you?


  1. Gelesen haben ist nichts. Geschrieben haben ist nichts. Lesen! Schreiben! Darum geht es. Martin Walser (quoted from memory so prob'ly wrong)

  2. The act of reading is just that: an act... in which the author keeps seducing the reader from page to page, without any necessary release... David Lodge


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