Monday, March 21, 2016

Delicate Books

Do you have delicate books? I imagine you do. I'm not talking about precious, first editions or beloved writings that have nourished. I'm talking specifically about brittle tomes that have sat on your shelves for years, maybe decades, without being touched. They have yellowing dust jackets with that curious linen covered cardboard hard cover. They are fourth, fifth, whatever printings of classics that you picked up at a library sell off, yard sale, used shop years ago when, upon seeing you said to yourself, yes, for $1.50 I really should own a disintegrating copy of the Federalist Papers.

You do. We all do.

I have several. There are books on my shelf that I'm constantly pulling to remind myself of the distance between basil plants I should arrange in my garden, to remember that Kennedy-Lincoln parallel thing, to remind myself in which play Shakespeare coined the borrower-be thing. Those books get action.

But those other books, the delicate ones, stand true, untouched and gathering dust. I have Schlesinger's Roosevelt series, sure. But, do I touch it? No. I used to yank out that curiously mesmerizing Timetables of History all the time and then Google happened and now it stands, untouched, waiting. Becoming delicate.

Tonight I was looking for a book I know I have somewhere – still haven't found it – and came across a couple of others that grabbed me. The Robe by Douglas and 84, Charing Cross Road by Helen Hanff have just been sitting there, waiting. Why do I have The Robe? I have no idea. I don't know what it's about, I have no memory of it being being recommended. I think an old college buddy might have once mentioned a movie called The Robe but that can't be why I have this book. 84, of course, is a delightful movie. If you can watch that film and not fall in love with Anne Bancroft then you and I have nothing more to say to each other. But, how did I find this book and, more importantly, why haven't I read it are questions for which I have no answer.

Both books have grown delicate. The Robe is in very bad shape. The binding is pulling loose and the spine is impossibly stiff. I'm gently working it back and forth. Fortunately, my hands are big enough that I can wrap my palm about the length of the edge. I can roll it softly and gingerly open the pages. Soon I'll open it about 20 degrees and let the pages break apart from the fused block they've become, starting at the center, of course. In a bit I'll be able to let them cascade back and forth as individuals. Finally, still gently rolling, I'll crawl to the front and find out what the hell this book is that I've guarded for so many years.

After that, I may actually read 84. We'll see.

1 comment:

  1. Love this part..."let the pages break apart from the fused block they've become"