Here we go again with books, that seemingly endless subject we always turn to in our afternoon tête-à-tête. As we were saying, David, now that you have had to give up your collections of books, parts of you are in the libraries of people you never met, in places you have never been. You didn’t really ask them to invite you in, but the simple fact that you opened some book you picked up because you liked the title, or that had to do with your love, the theater, read even a few lines or maybe scribbled notes on a page or two, means that now that book won’t ever let you go.
The question is: Who owns a book? Or rather who owns whom. So, who owns a book? Good question. You saw it, picked it up and paid for it, put it in your bag and took it home. One might say you adopted it. Yet, it was the book that called out to you, that inveigled its way into your bag, into your heart, and mind. That book, whether you’ve read it or not, owns you. We may think we own a book, but it is the book that owns us. We can set it aside, put it in a box, even watch it go up in flames, but its spirit will continue to own us. It becomes part of our lives. I remember my friend Leo Steinberg and his library of books, some of whom had escaped the flames of the bonfires of war. Every time he consulted one, he would write the date on the inside cover.
Once in passing along to the bakery, now owned by Philippinos and I must say they make excellent bread, the local bread without salt, there was a man sitting on a wall that overlooked the street below, reading, not thank heavens, his iPhone but a book. And he had another book lying on the wall next to him. “What are you reading”, I asked. “Oh, it’s… I found it in that bookshop up the street and have been looking for it for years. I sort of lost part of myself and wanted it back. He has an amazing assortment of books”. “He does,” I agree, before continuing my walk, leaving him to read his book in peace.
That bookstore he was referring to is along the way I walk most days. Arcimboldo. libri d’occasione, usato e vecchie edizioni. Bargains, used and old editions. I really don’t like the term “used books” The fact that someone read a book and discarded or gave it away, perhaps because they didn’t have room for any more books, or perhaps because they were disappointed in it even though that particular book had received rave reviews, does that make it “used”? I rather think second-hand is a better description. But then second-hand would more often than not become third or fourth or fifth hand. Who knows how many hands that specific book has touched on in its life. That’s just the point. You’re not only getting a book but you’re getting a book and its multiple lives.