There are six bookcases in my house, although one doesn’t quite count because it’s a four-tiered lawyer’s bookcase, the kind where the glass fronts fold up, and it is serving an alternate purpose in the dining room. It holds all sorts of glasses for entertaining: red and white wine glasses; flutes for Proseco, Cremant or champagne; water tumblers; a few goblets, glasses for mixed cocktails and of course for martinis. However, the martini glasses are sometimes used to present ceviche served on shredded cucumber.
As for the bookcases fulfilling their book-holding potential, well, one is filled with some first editions of books of interest only to me, and a wacky array of small antique and art-type things on some of the shelves. I love that bookcase. It’s a sort of Scottish Arts and Craft style, dark with glass front doors that I bought and had to rehabilitate because it was missing its two back legs. Some days I open its glass front doors with a reverence even I think is a bit odd.
The shelves of the bookcase in the hallway on the second floor is filled with different types of books, and a couple of non-nook types of things: a small dolphin stone statue on the top shelf given to me by one of my nieces, two glass science beakers on the one under the dolphin and the one under that, a photograph in a metal frame.
As much as I try to organize my books by subject, it’s hard to maintain. The shape of the line of the books on the shelf is important: it can’t be visually noisy, so if they aren’t somewhat symmetrical, or at least visually pleasing in their asymmetrical pattern or colours, then subject-matter order is simply out of the question.
TIME TO RATIONALIZE THE BOOKS
I was wondering about books because a pact I made with myself or the devil — that if I bring another book into the house then one has to go — is causing me great grief. Seriously. So I have been perusing my bookcases, pulling books and wondering which ones I can live without. On a pragmatic level, I can live without any of them. On an emotional level? I have a stack of 10 books ready to go to a good home, and before deciding if they were the ones to be banished forever, I sat with them and read through them again. One is a definite yes: I have two copies of it. The others, well, each a reluctant yes. I can do this.
Maybe. I love books. The paper and the type and the art that they contain either in pictures and words. But what I realized as I navigated my love of books is what they represent. A good book — or article, or essay, prose or poetry or small collection of words such as what you might find in haiku — in any field, fiction or not, tells a story.
And my love of books is as much about my love of stories, and I love stories because they take me to other places, to imagined worlds. It might also be because I am human (a surprise to some, I know) and humans for the most part since the dawning of whatever we dawned from, have used stories to describe things and impart information some important and some funny; how big the wooly mammoth was that chased us, how cute that Neanderthal down the cave lane was, how long it took to get the donkey down that path all the way up in time to yesterday when I heard tell of a jewelry conscious little girl who in preparing to be baptised, was listening to the priest explain the whole story of what Jesus means and what baptism means, nodding wisely and patiently, and when the priest was done said, “Right, okay, and when do I get my cross?
Stories matter. They hold power. The hold a truth or two. The hold a piece of the world and offer it to you. If you do no believe that, I invite you to attend the annual Toronto Festival of Storytelling. In our hurried world and expectations of everything happening in internet time, it is magic to sit with your friends and a group of strangers, transfixed by storytellers whose voices and words conjure people and places in forgotten places in your mind and transport across time and space to other worlds where you can see the unfolding of other lives and experiences.
When I listen to people and their stories and listen to their voices and watch their bodies move as they tell their stories, I often wondered about imagination and imaginary worlds. When I think about it, it’s probably fair to say that imaginary worlds have been part of our human consciousness forever.
Just last night I was listening to a lecture about ancient Egypt. The world of the ancient Egyptians barely distinguished between the real and imagined worlds when it came to the world of the living and the world of the dead. The only difference seems to be that in the world of the dead you needed to know ALL of the spells to make sure you functioned as well as you did in the world of the living. Like a spell on how to get your legs to work and that stuff, in case you were immobilized too long in the place we would call limbo. Or the Egyptian Book of the Dead‘s spell #6 in case you need labourers for any afterlife work that you have going on.
In that imagined world, after you are taken over the River Styx, and pass through the trials and tribulations and got your heart weighed against a feather and were judged pure of heart and sinless, you got back into the game of living, albeit in the otherworld: you still played a game similar to chess, ate your favourite foods, loved your favourite animals and people… because those stories were told and passed along as part of the faith of the Egyptian people. Interestingly, the professor said that it is HIS job to tell stories that bring the history of Egypt alive. I liked that.
Roman gods, Greek gods, Hindu gods: all imagined worlds, near ours, but not ours. Like ours, but not ours. And in the world’s monotheistic religions, imagined worlds exist as well. Aboriginal peoples and their creation stories, their stories that making sense of their world. Thunderbird. Raven. Mount Olympus. Hades. Wolf and Bear clan. Dreaming the world of Australian aboriginals. All transport them out and above the mundane world.
I love imaginary worlds and am humbled by the minds that created them. Alice in Wonderland? An imagined world. The Emerald City in Wizard of Oz. Jules Verne’s The Incredible Journey. William Gibson and his dark, tech-ruled world. Gene Roddenberry and Star Trek. Einstein and his E=MC2. Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Firefly. Everything Disney Does. Or Oprah. The list is endless.
But we don’t even need to go that far. Most of history is an imagined world. What WAS it like to live in the city before cars? What was life like BEFORE girls could go to school? Before toilets? What was work like before employee empowerment? What was it like to burn a bra? How did the city get squatters out of the shacks they built in 1908? How any oppressed person lived, survived and thrived their ordeal. Falling in and out of love. Discovery of self, others and perhaps a truth or two along the way. They are all stories. ANd while some Buddhist teachings suggest not getting TOO tied to the stories we tell ourselves, stories impart a connection, one person to another, one group to another, one people to another.
Books take me to imagined worlds. Books are of course, a physical ‘place’ that holds words. There are other creative endeavours that hold words and pictures and evoke imaginary worlds. Photography. Paintings. Illustration. Film, including some animated films, the Narnian series, such as the Nightmare Before Christmas, Studio Ghibli’s work, specially Howl’s Moving Castle and Spirited Away and maybe the upcoming film, The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus.
Stories that are shared are perhaps a kind of meme. And with the internet, more stories are available to more people faster, than ever before. That’s kind of cool. And for me? It means I can buy books a little more slowly and that means I get to keep all of my books a little longer too.