The other day I was clearing out a bunch of books from a shelf downstairs as we prepare to move some furniture upstairs and I came across “Treason by the Book” by Jonathan D. Spence, a leading scholar on modern and Imperial Chinese history. As I opened the book and thumbed through the pages my thoughts moved away from the book’s contents and drifted back to the day I’d purchased it from a used bookstore while strolling with my wife on the outskirts of University of Washington’s Seattle campus or U-Dub as we call it out here. We were enjoying the latter part of a sunny afternoon having finished lunch at a local Chinese restaurant and were sipping Bubble Tea for desert and turned out to be one of those Saturdays where you go home at end of the day feeling completely fulfilled because you’ve simply spent time with someone you love.
Smiling, I put “Treason by the Book” into a stack to be carried upstairs later and began to pull more books off the shelf, curious as to what other memories might pop up. That’s part of my relationship with books and I’m willing to bet it is for a lot of us. We buy books because we like what they offer, but sometimes the situation in which we obtained them counts just as much. I really owe my love of reading to my parents and they were very generous with the amount of books they bought me growing up. My old room back at their house in the Midwest still has the large wooden bookcases my dad built and I can still remember perusing the shelves of King Books, an incredible warehouse of used books in downtown Detroit, with my mom.
My wife and I talk sometimes about print books, ebooks and the future of the whole publishing industry. She likes paperback and hard covers as much as I do, but I can’t help feeling she might be right about ebooks eventually overtaking print, even if it is still a few years off. Still, there’s just something about owning a real book that can’t be replaced. Don’t get me wrong. I have the Kindle app for my iPad and I love using it, but with digital rights management and what not, I don’t quite feel like the books actually belong to me, but rather are being loaned out with permission from Amazon.
I cringe when I go through my bookshelves every now and then, feeling I’ve have a few too many and need to thin out a couple. An uncle of mine once said the “person who gets rid of their hardcover books will eventually be punished with a few extra years in purgatory.” I have to smile when I think of that because I’m also reluctant to part with the stacks of paper that are now overcrowding parts of my house. My wife’s been good to me so far and hasn’t requested I get rid of any and I hope it stays that way. J After all, who knows, my uncle might end up being right.
What kind of relationship do you have with books? What kind of memories do they evoke?