Confessions of a Bibliophile

Bibliophile: [bib-lee-uh-fahyl, -fil] –noun a person who loves or collects books, especially as examples of fine or unusual printing, binding, or the like.

and i'm a little bit nerdy

I suppose I’ve been a bibliophile since before I could even read and this is what filled me with an insatiable urge to figure out what the letters on the page meant. I loved the smell of the pages, the feel of the books in my hands, the ability to escape and learn and get absorbed in a story. I won a creative writing contest in grade 3 and spent the $100 prize entirely on new books.

I’ve maintained a lifelong love affair with literature. It’s what I know. It’s my passion. It’s one of the few things at which I excel. Math? No. Science? Heck no. Physical Education? Hopeless … But give me a book and tell me to read it, love it, critique it, dissect it, write papers on various themes and I’m all yours, baby.

Fast forward 10 years or so, and I decided to pursue my love of reading at the university level. Four-and-a-half years of intense reading (with some prerequisite courses thrown in for good measure. Let’s not discuss university chemistry please!) and armfuls, boxes full of new books. My Billy bookshelf sags from the weight.

And then there’s the literary internship. Publishers sending books daily to be reviewed. No time to review them all, so many end up getting shelved. The bright-eyed, bibliophile intern decides to rescue them, take them home like heavy, abandoned puppies.

It’s no surprise then, that years of studying and loving literature have resulted in a bookshelf in this sorry state:

My bookshelf BEFORE spring cleaning

So many books, so disorganized, each one vying for attention, my favourites stacked between ones I never got around to reading. I’d had enough–and I’m Dutch so I cannot deal with clutter and disorganization–so last week I decided to spring clean my bookshelf and undergo the incredibly painful task of deciding which ones to keep, and which to donate to goodwill.

It sounds so silly, but it was an extremely difficult task. I sat on my floor surrounded by all my books, holding each one while I decided its fate. Keep, or donate? My friend and I discussed this recently, and why it was so hard. She too is an English major (that is, we both studied English literature in university and were not associated with the English military) and is in the process of going through her extensive collection also.

We believe it has to do with this dream we have of ourselves that we have to surrender. I’ve always had this idea that I would grow up with an impressive personal library and a house overflowing with books. To be seen as this pretentious bluestocking book snob whose book collection is so gigantic that when people see it they come to the conclusion that I’m just so wickedly clever.

The reality is that books take up a huge amount of space, and there are tons of books on my shelf that I never read or didn’t even like. Take Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath for example. Hated the book, not a fan of Steinbeck, but I felt I had to keep it on my shelf just because it makes me look good.

In the end, I decided to get over this dream and only keep the books I would truly treasure and/or read again.

crates full of books to donate to goodwill

I still have an impressive collection, but now it’s much smaller (and alphabetized!):

my bookshelf AFTER spring cleaning

Why hoard books which give me no enjoyment when they can bless and be a treasure to someone else? All I can say is, after receiving the books that both my bibliophile friend and I are donating, goodwill is getting some fine literature!

And I’m still a bibliophile. Just a downsized one.

Life in Pictures

As an update of sorts, here is what has been going on lately, in pictures. Because a picture is worth a thousand words, right?

What I have been doing too much of lately:

I am also totally obsessed with this show:

And I’ve found a style muse in the fabulously bitchy Blair Waldorf. I drool over just about everything she wears:

Especially this dress:

Although I don’t have Blair’s budget for clothes and accessories, I’ve started incorporating her style in my own way:

What I wish I could do more of:

Also: currently reading Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy; not writing a blessed thing because exhaustion and being overworked have a way of crushing creativity; making a daily commitment to be positive and not let everyday stresses get the better of me and my health (more on that later); getting excited about Christmas and looking forward to some potentially exciting things in the future …

What has been going on in your life?

I’ve Been Reading …

Shocker.

come home in the car you love, brainy brainy brainy

I’ve been reading two different books (one finished, one nearly halfway done) which have impacted me in different yet significant ways.

I recently finished C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity which I bought and read at the perfect time in my life. Clive Staples Lewis has a way of making Christianity so simple and accessible, and the way he words things and illustrates concepts with beautiful and unexpected metaphors made me feel like I was hearing ideas for the very first time (and in many cases, I was). I can say confidently, with no exaggeration, that this book has changed my life and has been an integral part of my “Christian walk.” I love Jack.

The other book I’m currently halfway through, The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery, is a book I’ve been meaning to read for about a year. There’s only one copy at the local library, and every time I went there since January, it’s been checked out until I got lucky last week! Like The Awakening by Kate Chopin or anything by Virginia Woolf, there are some sentences in it that simply take my breath away.

… But rather than continuing my ecstatic ramble, I’ll let the words of the authors speak for themselves.

they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength

From Mere  Christianity by C.S. Lewis:

[…] many a man has overcome cowardice, or lust, or ill-temper, by learning to think that they are beneath his dignity–that is, by Pride. The devil laughs. He is perfectly content to see you becoming chaste and brave and self-controlled provided, all the time, he is setting up in you the Dictatorship of Pride–just as he would be quite content to see your chilblains cured if he was allowed, in return, to give you cancer. For Pride is spiritual cancer: it eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or even common sense (pg.125)

[…] for many people […] music is the thing known in the present life which most strongly suggests ecstasy and infinity (pg. 137)

But there must be a real giving up of the self. You must throw it away ‘blindly’ so to speak. Christ will indeed give you a real personality: but you must not go to Him for the sake of that. As long as your own personality is what you are bothering about you are not going to Him at all. The very first step is to try to forget about yourself altogether. Your real, new self (which is Christ’s and also yours, and yours just because it is His) will not come as long as you are looking for it. It will come when you are looking for Him. Does that sound strange? The same principle holds, you know, for more everyday matters. Even in social life, you will never make a good impression on other people until you stop thinking about what sort of impression you are making. Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without having noticed it (pg. 226)

first cup of the morning

From The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery:

[…] we are tasting the splendid gift of this unexpected morning as if it were some precious nectar; ordinary gestures have an extraordinary resonance, as we breathe in the fragrance of the tea, savor it, lower our cups, serve more, and sip again: every gesture has the bright aura of rebirth. At moments like this the web of life is revealed by the power of the ritual, and each time we renew our ceremony, the pleasures will be all the greater for our having violated one of its principles. Moments like this act as magical interludes, placing our hearts at the edge of our souls: fleetingly, yet intensely, a fragment of eternity has come to enrich time. Elsewhere the world may be blustering or sleeping, wars are fought, people live and die, some nations disintegrate, while others are born, soon to be swallowed up in turn–and in all this sound and fury, amidst eruptions and undertows, while the world goes its merry way, bursts into flames, tears itself apart and is reborn: human life continues to throb.

So, let us drink a cup of tea.

[…]

The tea ritual: such a precise repetition of the same gestures and the same tastes; accession to simple, authentic and refined sensations, a license given to all, at little cost, to become aristocrats of taste, because tea is the beverage of the wealthy and of the poor; the tea ritual, therefore, has the extraordinary virtue of introducing into the absurdity of our lives an aperture of serene harmony. Yes, the world may aspire to vacuousness, lost souls morn beauty, insignificance surrounds us. Then let us drink a cup of tea. Silence descends, one hears the wind outside, autumn leaves rustle and take flight, the cat sleeps in a warm pool of light. And, with each swallow, time is sublimed (pg. 90-91)

Dear Lord, I wish I had written that. But I’m also thankful that yesterday afternoon out on the back deck in a rare moment of sunshine, with a delicious polichinka and a cup of tea, I read that paragraph and had to take a break to let the beauty saturate me.

Growing by the Day

My To-Read list is ever increasing, thanks to my editorial internship which exposes me to books and the book industry every day.  

Living in the city, I’m shocked and pleasantly surprised at how many people actually read.  On the streetcar, the train, waiting for the streetcar or train to arrive, at cafes and coffee shops, while walking … it’s encouraging and inspiring to be surrounded by a silent community of readers bound together like the pages in the volumes we are holding, clumsy shields against a world plagued by ennui, the soft battle cry of pages turning, our minds tangled in a web of words …

Yes, I am surrounded by this web of words, day in and day out (and even sometimes at night).  And no, reading and writing about reading and writing has not improved my writing and I am still given to lame, barf-inducing metaphors.

Unfortunately, I have decided to take on the whale-sized task of reading Moby Dick.  The whole thing.  Cover to cover.  Without skipping any long descriptive paragraphs about the sea.  It was mentioned relentlessly in a novel I recently inhaled (the title of which now escapes me) and I felt it to be my English-graduate duty to finally read Melville’s masterpiece and learn about the captain responsible for the name of the world’s biggest coffee franchise.  

Yes, it’s good.  Yes, there are some sentences that have jumped out at me and made me ponder their importance.  And yes, it is very long and sometimes very dry.  But I’ve committed to it, even though I am no longer a student (hooray!) forced to read every single word on each course syllabus. 

In the meantime, I’m lusting over these titles on my ever-growing To-Read list; some, because they are very hot right now in the book industry, others because I simply fell in love with the cover art (but that’s a different story!):

Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung: The Work of a Legendary Critic: Rock ‘N’ Roll as Literature and Literature as Rock ‘N’ Roll by Lester Bangs

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

High Fidelity by Nick Hornby 

The Mistress of Nothing by Kate Pullinger

The Wife’s Tale by Lori Lansens 

–anything by Jeanette Winterson, but mostly Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky 

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro 

Sweeping Up Glass by Carolyn Wall

The White Queen by Philippa Gregory

The Sister by Poppy Adams (gorgeous, gorgeous cover which I fell in love with at Shoppers Drug Mart)

Generation A by Douglas Coupland

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak 

Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery 

February by Lisa Moore (this cover has always haunted me)

Further suggestions are welcome but not recommended until I finish the big fish I’ve set out to read.

Yes, the lousy puns and metaphors will stop for now …

“A house without books” … On Reading and Writing

Again, another ramble through http://www.quotegarden.com has gleaned some inspiring quotes. This time, I’ve decided to kill two birds with one stone and combine the quotes I love about reading and writing, respectively. Let these encourage you if you’re a writer, inspire you if you’re a reader, and light a match under your arse if you’re both.

photo courtesy of www.ffffound.com

photo courtesy of http://www.ffffound.com

If there’s a book you really want to read but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it
–Toni Morrison

Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read
–Groucho Marx

A book reads the better which is our own, and has been so long known to us, that we know the topography of its blots, and dog ears, and can trace the dirt in it to having read it at tea with buttered muffins
–Charles Lamb, Last Essays of Elia, 1833

My test of a good novel is dreading to begin the last chapter
–Thomas Helm

A book must be an ice-axe to break the seas frozen inside our soul
–Franz Kafka

To sit alone in the lamplight with a book spread out before you, and hold intimate converse with men of unseen generations — such is a pleasure beyond compare
–Kenko Yoshida

In reading, a lonely quiet concert is given to our minds; all our mental faculties will be present in this symphonic exaltation
–Stephane Mallarme

There is a wonder in reading Braille that the sighted will never know: to touch words and have them touch you back
–Jim Fiebig

Good friends, good books and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life
–Mark Twain (hear hear!)

A house without books is like a room without windows
–Heinrich Mann (I saw this quote on a decorative plaque and it has stuck with me ever since)

From every book invisible threads reach out to other books; and as the mind comes to use and control those threads the whole panorama of the world’s life, past and present, becomes constantly more varied and interesting, while at the same time the mind’s own powers of reflection and judgment are exercised and strengthened
–Helen E. Haines

To acquire the habit of reading is to construct for yourself a refuge from almost all the miseries of life
–W. Somerset Maugham

We should read to give our souls a chance to luxuriate
–Henry Miller

Reading well is one of the great pleasures that solitude can afford you
–Harold Bloom

Books are delightful society. If you go into a room and find it full of books — even without taking them from the shelves they seem to speak to you, to bid you welcome
–William Ewart Gladstone

There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein
–Walter Wellesley “Red” Smith

The story I am writing exists, written in absolutely perfect fashion, some place, in the air. All I must do is find it, and copy it
–Jules Renard, “Diary,” February 1895

Do not put statements in the negative form.
And don’t start sentences with a conjunction.
If you reread your work, you will find on rereading that a great deal of repetition can be avoided by rereading and editing.
Never use a long word when a diminutive one will do.
Unqualified superlatives are the worst of all.
De-accession euphemisms.
If any word is improper at the end of a sentence, a linking verb is.
Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky.
Last, but not least, avoid cliches like the plague.
–William Safire, “Great Rules of Writing” (this one makes me giggle!)

Every writer I know has trouble writing
–Joseph Helle (this is comforting!)

If I’m trying to sleep, the ideas won’t stop. If I’m trying to write, there appears a barren nothingness
–Carrie Latet (glad I’m not the only one with this problem!)

Sleep on your writing; take a walk over it; scrutinize it of a morning; review it of an afternoon; digest it after a meal; let it sleep in your drawer a twelvemonth; never venture a whisper of it to your friend, if he be an author especially
–A. Bronson Alcott (I agree. As a general rule I HATE to discuss what I’m working on with friends, many of whom are writers themselves. Alternatively, I don’t like it when they talk about what they’re working on; I never know what to say)

The most essential gift of a good writer is a built-in, shockproof shit detector. This is the writer’s radar and all great writers have had it.
–Ernest Hemingway, interview in Paris Review, Spring 1958

Yann Martel on Stillness

Since April 16, 2007, Canadian author Yann Martel has been sending Prime Minister Stephen Harper (Freudian slip: I almost typed “president” instead of “prime minister!”) a book which promotes stillness every few weeks, accompanied by a little letter. He chronicles the books, the letters, and the replies back from Harper’s people, on his blog: http://www.whatisstephenharperreading.ca

What a fantastic idea from a fantastic writer.

Famous people and celebrities (can you count Harper as a celebrity?) and other busy bees are always telling magazines what they are currently reading. I always wonder, though, if they actually read the book (can you imagine the Supreme Busy Being, Oprah Winfrey, reading all the weighty tomes recommended in her book club?) or if one of their hired hands read it for them and then told them what it was about and what to tell journalists.

I’m a self-professed bookworm, yet lately, I can’t seem to read as much as I’d like. Working 9-5 leaves little time left in the day to kick your feet up and metaphorically munch on a delicious little volume, since the time after supper is usually devoted to talking to Eric, working out, sorting out the details of my life before I make my move at the end of the month, and then unwinding, which, I’m ashamed to say, generally takes place in front of the TV. I need to read before bed in order to fall asleep, so I take my book into bed with me and depending on how riveting the book is, I start falling asleep after a few pages (for a non-fiction book, a few paragraphs is all it takes for me to be visited by the sandman).

The dumb part of this all is that I’m not inhaling books as much as I used to, and not nearly as fast either. You could say that I’m savouring what I read by taking it slowly but my To Read list just keeps on growing and growing. I feel like a poor excuse of an English major and an embarrassment to bookworms everywhere.

However, having read Yann Martel’s letter accompanying the first novel he sent to Harper, The Death of Ivan Ilych by Leo Tolstoy, I feel a bit better, if not moderately encouraged.

After acknowledging how busy the president (Prime Minister, Prime Minister!) must be, Martel says:

“We’re all busy. Meditating monks in their cells are busy. That’s adult life, filled to the ceiling with things that need doing. (It seems only children and the elderly aren’t plagued by lack of time – and notice how they enjoy their books, how their lives fill their eyes.)

But every person has a space next to where they sleep, whether a patch of pavement or a fine bedside table. In that space, at night, a book can glow. And in those moments of docile wakefulness, when we begin to let go of the day, then is the perfect time to pick up a book and be someone else, somewhere else, for a few minutes, a few pages, before we fall asleep …”

I suppose a little stillness at the end of the day is better than none at all. Tonight I have big plans to bring my Bronte in my bath with me, beach-scented bath bomb and all.