While books bulge off my shelves and cascade on my night table with occasional dog-eared pages, for the most part, I don’t own many of the books I love. Most are in circulation at a library or travelling through wandering hands at a used-book store. I used to carry certain slim books of poetry through my life but, after so many brown-box moves, they have vanished.
I used to run into someone on the subway (a person who appears in my life in strange ways since a job I had just out of school.) What are you reading? I asked once, because he always kept a book in his pocket, a paper fold leaking from the zipper. I’m not reading it, I just like to have it with me, he said.
I thought I understood. But then I didn’t. And then, I thought, he had always been somewhat odd.
I am an avid reader and, I hope, a thoughtful one. I do like to be with books, to have them in my bag, to stand among them in cozy shops or libraries, to know they are near. But books have always stayed with me in strange ways. I could love a book, clutch it to my heart, oh, oh, oh, and, a week later, someone could ask me its plot. I’ll hmm and stammer. Most of the time, I don’t remember the main character’s name.
Books have never been reference for me. I can’t quote a single line. I can’t point to the shelf, pull it out, read a passage. Oh, I read that! I’ll say when someone mentions a title. But then I never seem to know the facts, the figures, the names, the place.
It seems a book is mine and I am its, when it is in my hands.
Feelings, stirrings, moments, do linger after I leave the pages. They do keep. A certain wishing of almost-twin birthdays on a plane, a girl peeling potatoes in the back room of a catering hall. Sometimes I can connect these moments to specific books. But most of the time? I can’t tell you the writer or even the title.
For someone who often considers books her life’s blood, I have wondered, am I the only one, who is only able to keep pieces of books in a dusty jar of memory?