Friday, February 6, 2009

The Soul of a Book

Do books have souls?

Shall we write the Pope a letter of inquiry?

Does a book remain a precious thing, in and of itself, even if no one reads it, even if no one cares? Like a neglected old man in a musty old room, is its mere existence still of value, even if only to God?

I ask this possibly nerdish sounding question for a reason. Because I am a nerd.

No, that's not why.

I ask it because, as I reported here some time ago, my county public library is not a no-kill shelter for books. If nobody checks out a certain volume within two years, it gets offered to the public like a sad old dog for adoption. If no one comes to love it and take it home, to the dumpster it goes along with the rest of the trash.

So popularity rules and Harry Potter is assured an indefinite stay in the stacks whilst Boswell's Tour of the Hebrides might get sent packing if the local high school teachers don't assign it for a reading project.

That bothers me.

I feel that a public library should be a temple of knowledge, not just free advertising for the latest scribblings of Steven King and Danielle Steele.

For some time now, I have attempted to resume my reading of the Cambridge Ancient History Volumes -- rudely interrupted at Volume 11 when I didn't check out the massive tomes quickly enough to keep up with the Doyennes of Discard.

I went online. No library in the state of Virginia apparently carries these weighty works anymore, these intricate and detailed explorations of human history. Wanna buy one for yourself? Sure, Amazon will oblige -- for several hundred dollars apiece.

Yesterday, I had a revelation. I remembered the bibliophilic Nirvana of my old college library -- told you I was a nerd! -- where no book was apparently thrown away unless the pages were shredded or a newer copy was purchased.

I drove on down to the closest university near where I work. Sweet literary lust fulfilled -- they have EVERY volume of the Cambridge series. Since I know the librarian, She made me up a library card post-haste and I went home with Volume 11 -- The Roman Imperial Crisis and Recovery -- and a whole sack of donated books from their sale shelf, too.

Sweetie will not be happy with more books for my shelves. I'll make it up to Her on Valentine's Day.

Moral of the story: I'm a nerd.

No, the moral of the story: At universities, books still have souls, whether or not the Pope has made a decision on the matter yet.


Chase March said...

I know that public libraries don't really have enough room to store all of the books that are worthy of being on their shelves.

I think though, that they should all have a special collection stored somewhere but accessible by the catalogue. That would be a good system.

Eastcoastdweller said...


Now THAT is a wonderful compromise!

kat said...

sweet photographs!

I am happy your quest is fulfilled.

I swear not to buy more books... but I cannot help it.... some were among the souvenirs I bought on my DC trip....

kat said...

and a book I've wanted to reread Advise and Consent just arrived in today's mail .... sigh

but :-)

kat said...


it is a painful decision one must make when one has read a book to death literally.....

but a book that is not in such condition should absolutely be passed along

I will have to find again the website I had bookmarked (I thought) of folks that do just that.... they leave the book behind in an appropriate public place for someone to pick up and take with them....the book's progress/journey can even be tracked by those who respond to the website (from a stamp/or note placed in the book).

pretty cool!

Janice Thomson said...

I love books and use most of mine on a regular basis. Some of the ancient ones truly do have souls.

Eastcoastdweller said...

Kat: Books can indeed be a tangible reminder of places one has been, and times long past.

From an attic room in a little town in Hungary, from my childhood in England, from my university years, one by one books have marched into my life and become life-long friends.

Advise and Consent ... sounds interesting. What is it about?

Today I browsed my new book on hedgehogs, Shirer's Rise and Fall of the Third Reich and the first pages of Cambridge Vol. 11 -- in between suffering through a family birthday party at Chuck E (E is short for Evil) Cheese, and taking my Sweetie on Her rounds to the mall and some craft stores.

I'm not sure I could ever leave a book behind, entrusting it to fate. I gave away my copy of Black Beauty to a little Girl once, and a book on astronomy to a young man who expressed interest in it -- but even that was hard to do.

Janice: I am inclined to agree with You.

kat said...


advise and consent

kat said...

I did a hard cull of books several several years ago and it was semi-difficult.... but I gave them to the Zoo Atlanta library and it helped to know they could live on beyond me, be in the hands of readers sympathetic to the subjects and interested in them and in a position to passalong information in their docent duties