I cannot live without books.
Books are the carriers of civilization.
Without books, history is silent,
literature dumb, science crippled,
thought and speculation at a standstill.
Thank you Stephen Fry for Fry's Planet Word, and as episode five draws to a close I feel a surge of joy, reading the above quotes and hearing the poetic nasal whine of a young Bob Dylan. The love I have for books – concept and object – is fetishistic, worshipful, and comforting. Books are best. Books are beautiful. Holy, sacred, sexy, priceless and precious. Throught the course of the programme, which has taken me all day to watch in stolen moments, I have accumulated books around me, like works of art and comfort blankets. Ulysses by James Joyce, Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk, The Greatest Show on Earth by Richard Dawkins, the Captain Beefheart biography that has been keeping me busy, and my often present notebook. It's a party with the worlds most wonderful folk, beings and deities.
I'm often told off (in the nicest possible way) for owning books I have never read. And it's true: take for example the top shelf of the nearest bookshelf to where I am now sitting. The ratio of books I haven't read to books I have read is 13:28. They are there providing warmth, insulation, ballast, decoration, inspiration; they gently and patiently wait their turn. When their turn comes they will get the intimate experience of sleeping with me and being carried around in my bag or pocket for a week or two. Some may be re-read, some many many times; some may be given away, but most will remain as reference; building blocks in my own private library. (Have you seen My Fair Lady? The doctor in that has a library: that's what I want.)
Some of the books on my shelves exist in a middle ground between read and not-read. There are three challenging epics which I am happy to dip in and out of, probably for the rest of my life, and may never finish, e.g. Ulysses by James Joyce, Don Quixote by Cervantes, Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. Other's are anthologies like the Complete Stories of Hans Christian Andersen and The Heath Anthology of American Literature which are not necessary to read cover to cover. Then there are the art books, encyclopedias and art books. All come together to form a small portion of the world creativity and knowledge, all bound and preserved with tactile paper and ink. The covers are beautiful to hold, look at and touch; the pages smell new or like the mouldy cellar they lived in for forty years.
Books are best. The book is dead; long live the book.