I am unpacking my library. Yes, I am. After months of anxious waiting, I have moved into a new house in the city. I collected the keys to the property yesterday afternoon, and spent the better part of the day reorganizing furniture and arranging my belongings. I have a small but comfortable room at the rear of the house, with a window overlooking the garden; I have already placed the bed in a position that can enjoy the morning sunshine, and have placed my new desk immediately below the window-sill.
'O bliss of the collector, bliss of the man of leisure! Of no one has less been expected, and no one has had a greater sense of well-being than the man who has been able to carry on his disreputable existence in the mask of Spitzweg's 'Bookworm.' For inside him there are spirits, or at least little genii, which have seen to it that for a collector - and I mean a real collector, a collector as he ought to be - ownership is the most intimate relationship that one can have to objects. Not that they come alive in him; it is he who lives in them.'
Walter Benjamin, 'Unpacking my Library'
This morning I took a train to the family home in the valley. I have been sitting in what was my bedroom as a child, and looking over many of my old belongings. But what's caught my eye most strongly has been the books upon the shelves: ten years of collecting arranged tier by tier, row by row. Among them I see paperbacks I read as a young adolescent, texts I studied as an undergraduate, and novels I picked up in obscure second-hand bookshops but never found the time to read. It's bliss.
Whenever I return home I find a lot of comfort in these books. I enjoy picking up a copy of something, almost at random, and browsing through it on my bed; sometimes I like the nostalgic sense of warmth that familiar passages might bring, whereas other times I become excited by the surprise of something I haven't thought or felt on a previous reading. Of course, there are other books in the collection that I have never read, but have only ever picked up to flick through, finding something interesting here or there; but while I cannot ever imagine reading these from cover to cover, I can't imagine ever putting them down, either.
I find a certain sense of security from the books in my collection. It's as though my identity over the years has somehow become invested within them. And I've recently come to a decision:
Last weekend Jennifer went in search of a bookshelf for her room. After finding one that she liked, and taking it home, we both spent an afternoon trying to put it together. There was a feeling of excitement when the last shelf was secured, and the bookshelf was put into position. As we stood back to admire our handiwork, I decided to buy a new bookshelf of my own, and to bring some of my oldest, most treasured books with me to the flat in the city.
I can't wait to see what it looks like.