It is the time of “Lit Fests” once again. Those of us who are in cities where they are held make our way to the venues. We clear our calendars, brave crowds and inclement weather to hear what our favourite authors or artistes have to say about their craft. We browse through bookstalls set up on the grounds and have the books we buy signed by the authors. We thrill at the interaction and we mark those books as precious additions to our collections, never to be discarded.
Very few of us have the space for a separate “library” to house our books. We may be collectors. We may be fortunate enough to have a couple of shelves in niches here and there, but a whole room to indulge our passion is not for us.
For a short time when we were growing up, we lived in enormous houses and our father actually designated one of the rooms as his library. His books — a couple of hundreds of them — were numbered, tagged, recorded and arranged in order, and so were ours.
If we had Father’s permission to do so, we could actually sit at the desk in his library and read, but that rarely happened.
First, because Father gave us the key to the “library” only if he believed our claim that we wanted to read one of our own books. He probably knew we were more likely to go through his perfectly ordered collection with our grimy hands and our tendency towards dog-earing pages.
Also, he could have been uncertain whether his books were suitable for us at our different levels of understanding, so the most frequent answer was “No!”
Second, there was only one chair that seemed worthy to hold the “true reader” and there were three of us vying for that seat. Naturally, by the time the tug-of-war for that was over, the winner was too exhausted to read and fell asleep in the chair, only to be tossed out summarily by the other two for being a dog in the manger.
Behind the curtains
The end result was that despite the luxury of a separate library, we had rare access and mostly sneaked in, and hid behind the curtains or under the desk as we read.
Once Father retired and there was no place for a separate library, most of his books went into boxes. We still rummaged among them from time to time, we even made off with many of them, depending on our tastes — and we always aimed to set up our own libraries one day.
That never happened, of course. We just did not have enough place in our adult homes for it. But we did have numerous cupboards stacked with old books and new ones — and we were ever ready to add to our collections when we came upon attractive bargains.
Although we have kept the books hidden from prying eyes and not open to easy lending, we know our cupboards are overflowing. But neither KonMarie nor the Swedish method nor all the articles that appear online can convince us to de-clutter, let go of our books, or limit ourselves to that magic number of 30 books in all.
We marvel at those who donate books to libraries or participate in exchange programmes where they leave their books behind for others and choose from those left by others to read. Altruism of that variety is not for us.
We cling. We re-read. We skim. Or we just open our cupboards and run our eyes down the titles inside and feel good.
I hesitate to use the word “hoard” but that is actually what we do.
Cheryl Rao is a journalist based in India.