Howard Jacobson, Whatever It Is, I Don't Like It
(New York: Bloomsbury, 2011), pp. 100-101:
Few things convince a man of the vanity of life more than relocating his
library. What am I carrying all this lumber around with me for? Into boxes,
out of boxes. Why am I breaking my back for them? Throwing away money
on removalists, on shelves. Why am I repeating patterns of ownership that
have served me only fitfully in the past?
Some of my friends have sold their libraries now. They have that
preternaturally fresh-faced look of people who divorce late in life, or on the
spur of the moment give up a job they've toiled at for forty years. They
look free suddenly, disencumbered, not quite themselves. It's terrific, they
tell me, having got rid. It’s a liberation. And I incline my ear to their lips,
letting the poison drop, wondering if I am capable of such treacheries
myself. Although I know I'm not.
'Not more books!' my father used to complain when I came back from
the second-hand barrows of Shudehill, weighed down under another filthy
cardboard box, excited by my finds. A complete Thackeray for five bob, for
God's sake! The Caxton illustrated Balzac in a translation by Anonymous,
incomplete but only sixpence a volume . . . !
'Bargains!' I cried.
'I believe you,' he said. 'And the bargains you got last time? How many
of those have you read?'
How do you explain to somebody who doesn't understand that you don't
build a library to read. A library is a resource. Something you go to, for
reference, as and when. But also something you simply look at, because it
gives you succour, answers to some idea of who you are or, more to the
point, who you would like to be, who you will be once you own every book
you need to own.
Hat tip: Jim K., with thanks for the gift of Jacobson's book.