While in Paris, Alicia and I made it by the famous Shakespeare & Co. mentioned in Christina Hamlett’s wonderful guest post about browsing for books in Paris. I’d first heard about it in Hemingway’s Moveable Feast. Here, Hemingway borrowed English (language) books while he was living in writing in Paris. We had been hopping around, seeing sights from the Arc de Triomphe to the Eiffel Tower. In my list of things to see in Paris, this was the first item on the list. I loved the store. It was particularly crowded because it had just started raining and people were taking cover inside to avoid the shower, but everyone was quiet and well-mannered. It’s easy to be that way when you’re in awe, I guess. Or maybe in the brotherhood/sisterhood of book lovers there is an unsurpassed bond which makes decent action the only action.
At one point, Alicia slipped out and went next door to the rare book room. She was trying to surprise me with a gift, I think. I clumsily stumbled over to the area where she was browsing and ruined the surprise. As we were talking about which book I might want I realized I don’t really have a desire to collect rare volumes. Despite how much I love books, I fall into the camp of rationalizing the purchase along these lines: for the cost of one rare book I could buy 5-10 or more paperbacks or e-books and they’ll mean just as much to me.
Now, I realize I am missing something that makes a collector want to collect anything, not just books. I collected baseball cards as a kid so I get the idea that there’s a nonutilitarian attachment that can come into play. I also get the idea that they can be investments if you research thoroughly and purchase smartly. I just couldn’t bring myself to start collecting books even though I was in the perfect place to start a collection.
I think the thing that had me scared is that I don’t want to make books so sacred a thing that I can’t enjoy them thoroughly. What I mean by that is that there is a chance that a thing can become too sacred, that it becomes more ritual than experience. I don’t want books to be that for me. I want books to be more like a good friend than a Catholic Cardinal. I want them to be more like a freshly baked loaf of bread than the Eucharist. I want them ultimately approachable even on the days when I don’t expect to be able to make myself presentable to the rest of the world. I want them available always and without an appointment. I want them impartial to me even if they have opinions of their own.
As we left I’ve reflected on that conversation quite a bit. I wonder if my attitudes will change over time. I wonder if I will, eventually, find a book that delves into the sacred. I can see my attitude changing somewhere down the road when my thoughts turn to what I’ll leave behind instead of what new adventure lies ahead. Maybe.