Thursday, August 20, 2009

Thoughts on The Craft -- c.anne.gardner

Books are not made for furniture, but there is nothing else that so beautifully furnishes a house.
Henry Ward Beecher

To me, there is nothing like the calm of a Library to reinvigorate a weary soul. When I was a child, I spent a great deal of time at the local library, so much so, that my love of libraries often finds its way into my fiction. So, how does one end up with a library fetish? Well, my step-father was an academic man, and he loved to read -- history and letters mostly. Every night he would be sitting is his rocking chair, smoking his pipe, and reading some historical doorstop or another. He was also a disciplinarian who believed that “summer vacation” would make you stupid, so in order to prevent sun and fun induced brain fart syndrome, he made us read and do book reports over the school break. Must be where my love of reviewing comes from. Of course we hated it at first, as all children are apt to when they don’t have a choice in the matter. Even so, the hatred soon turned to a bona fide love of books, for all of us. Everyone in the house read: I liked the classics, horror, and mystery. My mother liked poetry and art. My sister is more of a romance/chick lit type, and my brother was a fantasy/sci-fi reader. Family library day was not uncommon, and when we were down with some childhood ailment, my mother always brought home cheap paperbacks from the grocery store for us to read in bed. Let’s just say, the house was filled with books, and my fondness for classical literature grew by leaps and bounds with each passing school semester.

The more I learned about Literature, the more I wanted to know.

When my father died, the books went in boxes. I was only 19, on my own, living with a bunch of roommates whilst trying to survive myself in the 80’s, and my family had to make some major changes and sacrifices after he passed. When I eventually got my own place, I rescued many of those boxes of books from ill-fated storage in a damp garage. My tiny apartment didn’t have much room to spare, but I couldn’t let the memories from my childhood rot away. We are talking the classics of literature and art here, old books with yellow dog-eared pages and leather covers that had been worried away by time and eager fingers. The books meant something to me, not simply for their artistic significance or their academic worth, but they meant something to me because they were the last vestige of my father that I had to cling to. I had been given a life-long love, something to cherish to the end of my days. My desire to write sprang forth from that love, and so my father’s books became a symbolic manifestation of it. Something to be respected, and I did try my best. Those books were stacked all over my small apartment. Anywhere I had space, you would find a book, books I returned to over and over again just to feel my father’s presence on the page.

Much later, after I had made a career for myself and after I had washed my hands of the first marriage and the bohemian lifestyle I had been living, I settled down into a house with my beloved second and last husband. We’ve been there about fifteen years now, and over that time, we basically gutted and remodelled the entire house, including a small ground floor bedroom that was too small to be of use other than, yea, you know it ... a library. I finally had the space to honour my father’s memory properly. I can’t even remember how long it took us. Had to be at least a year, maybe more, to design and construct everything. We didn’t hire anyone. The labour of love was ours alone. We are both pretty handy, and so my husband did all the deconstruction and carpentry work whilst I was in charge of staining, flooring, painting, and the overall design. I can recall saying in algebra class, “When am I ever going to use this shit again?” I found out right quick, and it was good thing I paid attention even if I hated the math. The end result was worth the torture. When it was done and I put the first of my father’s old books on a shelf, the whole essence of what it means to be in a “library” became clear. And certainly I realised then that while its architecture would never rival the Gothic Temples of old, my aching knees and mangled hands were a testament to its creation and the immortalisation of a childhood memory. A memory I can’t seem to let go of.

Yes, there are the bourgeois who think that by putting a library in their house and stacking it up with books they have never read will somehow give them an air of respectability or make them appear literary or scholarly in some way to their friends and neighbours, but the shame is on them for being so blatantly pedestrian. They aren’t fooling anyone. Books are not nick-knacks to be scattered about for impression sake. They are objects d’art, the finest of the fine. I am sure Library appreciators understand what I mean by that. My father certainly did, and now, I can return to him over and over again. I can return to my childhood, to the place I found my love, whenever I want.

Why did I post this, you ask? I posted this out of angst, actually. All this talk of the e-book revolution has me worried a little and I don’t mind saying it. What will happen to the libraries? To pull up a book digitally from your home office just doesn’t have the same impact as walking into a real library. I remember I used to love looking at all the times a book had been taken out before me. I would wonder who those people were and what they thought of it. Did they love it as much as I did? I remember how satisfying it was to flick through the card catalogue in search of my quarry only to find myself lost with joy in the maze of books before I could even get to it. I remember the silence. Oh, there is nothing like the silence ... and the smell of old paper. Yes, I do worry that literature lovers might be robbed -- robbed and cheated out of the truly wonderful and tactile experience that is The Library.

Many reviewers donate books to their local libraries. Some donate their time and their money. The Library needs you to survive.


Brent Robison said...

Thanks, Cheryl Anne, this is a subject perfectly related to Craft for me because it is at the root of all my desires to write. Just yesterday I was thinking on much the same lines, as I conversed with friends about hating gyms as much as I love libraries.... And your post reminds me of a Paul Auster novel I love, Moon Palace, in which the young poverty-stricken protag fills his apartment with furniture built of the books inherited from a beloved uncle, until he has to sell them all one by one, to eat. These days I often feel the sadness of an era passing, those sensory joys from books and libraries disappearing, to be entirely unknown by generations of digital-media consumers. But the human race evolves; it is what it is despite my feelings about it. In many ways I love technology, but it'll probably be a long time before I get a Kindle.

Cheryl Anne Gardner said...

I haven't read Moon Palace. Another to add to my TBR list.

I love technology too, but I worry that during this "evolutionary" process we will forget how to "be" three dimensional beings in a three dimensional universe, and as we stare straight forward into our flat virtual world, will we lose our peripheral vision, which is the second sight of all true artists. A dire thought that is.

Me too, hate the gym. I would rather take a walk in the woods. I don't own a Kindle either, and my cell phone, which is always turned off, is 15 years old -- no text, no web, no photos -- just a phone. I don't need to be connected every minute of my life. I can't see the world through all the distracting static.

Brent Robison said...

Nice to know there's someone else waaay behind the Iphone curve...

Love "peripheral vision... the second sight of all true artists." I may have to quote that somewhere!

Cheryl Anne Gardner said...

Glad you liked that peripheral thing. It's so true, and you can quote me on that! :)