After my intemperate book-buying spree(s) in the Borders Closing Down Sale, I not only had to assemble six new bookcases, but also had to sort through all my books and cull them. I'd rather club a baby seal over the head than cull my books.
After four hours, I had one book in the charity shop pile: The National Trust Handbook 2002. After five hours, I'd added another book: a very worthy vegetarian cookbook, all brown rice, beans and carminative qualities. Eventually I added a book about The Chinese Art of Conning Money Out of Gullible Westerners (The Joy of Feng Shui) and one on aromatherapy. Look, it was the '90s: everyone went through a hippy-dippy phase.
And then I had to lie down and mainline ginger and Sal Volatile.
I suppose I ought to make my point. Books are a Lust of the Flesh. The solid weight in the hand, the texture of paper (soft and loved as a worn leather glove or smooth, crisp and new), the font, the cover, the familiar publishing logos. The makers of Kindle and other e-readers would have us believe that books are obsolete, outdated, so very yesterday. Phooey! I bet the Kindle will go the way of the Beta Max video tape - anyone remember Beta Max? Anyone remember video tapes?
We buy pulp fiction along with our Utterly Butterly and Fray Bentos pies, and forget that books were once so very precious they were chained to the shelves of the Bodleian Library and no-one, not even the king, was permitted to borrow one.
King Charles I: I'd like to borrow a copy of La Chanson de Roland, please.
Librarian: Sorry, your Highness, but that will not be possible.
King Charles I: But I am the King!
Librarian: Yes, Sir, but that is a book.
I was taught to love books but also to treat them with respect; not to crack their spines, make dog ears and certainly not to write or draw in them. I remember the horror of being given my mother's original copy of When We Were Very Young and discovering that she'd coloured in the pen and ink illustrations. Wicked, wicked child.
Still, a colleague has written a book about Robert Louis Stevenson's reading habits - having tracked down his original library and studied the comments he'd scrawled in the margins of his books. And the Bodleian librarians not only know that Romeo and Juliet was the most popular of Shakespeare's plays, but that the divinity scholars read and re-read the balcony scene more than any other. The evidence is on the Quartos: all grubby finger marks, worn page corners and even an elbow print where one reader rested on the book and swooned.
I cannot bring myself to write in the margins of my books (the memories of beatings and coal cellars linger) and so any future reviewer of the Moptop Archive will think I had a mind as empty as a drunkard's purse.
I shall go to my maker (a small factory in Taiwan) with a head full of characters, plots, poems, plays, obscure literary conceits and the odd drug deal in Baltimore. Take my jewels! Take my furs! Take the Limoges porcelain! But leave me my books.