More Books Than Time

Looking at my shelves lined with books, I know where some of them are from, but not all. The newer purchases have no tangible memory with them. Oh, I know a bit about my life or my interests at the time; the subject matter prompts that memory. But there’s not the sense of choosing the book, of weighing it against another, of the particular shelf I pulled it from.

Some of the books have echoes of where they were first read, rather than bought, of when they came into my life. I can even pick out the books from Dover, the Book of the Month Club, Quality Paperback Bookclub, the Science Fiction Book Club — they have the same weightlessness that comes from looking at a catalog, but still do have a memory of their origin.

Camber of Culdi, et seq., came from the Little Professor after a day at the park. I was 10 or 11. I was glued to their one bookcase of science fiction and fantasy novels. Each visit there began the same way, and sometimes ended pleasantly.

Before leaving St. John’s College at the end of my year there, I bought The Hero with a Thousand Faces to take home with me. I’d been lusting after it for two semesters, but there were always other things to spend money on, like comics. Having my parents’ wallet that day helped.

Dad visited Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, Va., one fine summer’s day, I think to use the library. I accompanied him. I found and borrowed Satan: The Early Christian Tradition, and purchased it later. The other volumes in Jeffrey Burton Russell’s series haven’t made it to my collection, yet; I enjoyed them from the library at Hampden-Sydney College.

I took the bus from Yorktown Heights to Times Square, then walked down Seventh Ave. to the Chemical Bank back office on W. 33rd St. I habitually cut through the Barnes & Noble across from Penn Station. If I had time, I stopped. I picked up Robert Jordan’s The Eye of the World, read it on the bus, and went on to the next the following day. One disadvantage of reading a long series all at once is noticing when the author uses the same description of a character every time.

One day on my lunch break at The Associated Press, shortly after installing Slackware Linux on a spare desktop, I browsed through the McGraw-Hill Bookstore, as I usually did at lunch, and picked up Learning the Unix Operating System and Essential System Administration. Thus began my infatuation with books published by O’Reilly.

It’s as if the act of choosing fixed the time and place, made the purchase more intense, though it may only seem this way because I was younger, before an increase in disposable income and Amazon let me fulfill my instant desires. Perhaps, also, it’s that many of these unremembered books have only been purchased; they have not been read. I have not spent time enough to become their friend.

Maybe I could live without the reminders. We do not all have Hermione Granger’s time-turner, and must carefully attend to what we have.

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