"When dawn spreads its paintbrush on the plain, spilling purple... ," Songs of the Pioneers song from TV show "Wagon Train." Dawn on the mythic Santa Fe Trail, New Mexico, looking toward Raton from Cimarron. -- Clarkphoto. A curmudgeon's old-fashioned newspaper column, cross-breeding metaphors and journalism and art, for readers in 150 countries.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Turning pages

I sat down in the chair, turned on the floor lamp, and picked up the thick book gingerly, feeling the weight in my hands.

Then I opened the cover and leafed through a few pages till I found the table of contents, trying to get a sense of the structure of an intimidating task. Then I flipped several pages ahead till I found an interesting section, and picked up a pen to underline one short passage that immediately stood out. Soon, I was leafiing through other pages, just getting a feel for the task ahead in the 800 some odd pages.

It's the autobiography of Mark Twain, a gift from my wife. "You need a book to read," she said when she handed it to me. It's been a fascinating introduction to life 100 years and more ago, including interesting stories of President Grant and others. I'm still not sure I'll get through it, but at least it still lies there on the corner table by the lamp, reminding me there are worlds to discover inside, gently prodding me to sit down and stay away from the computer.

It probably won't become one of my friends, like the many that line the bookshelves in the house, but I won't know until later. If not,it'll end up in the garage, or book book sale or... .

I do know that it wouldn't be the same picking up an e-reader, and even though I may buy one of those for lightweight air travel, I spend too much time in front of a digital screen as it is to want to read books and newspapers that way.

Frankly, I enjoy the feel of pages, the sense of discovery that comes from turning pages. It's sensory, and I can mark the favorite parts up with underlines, or stars in the margins, or brackets or other comments. Yes, you can highlight stuff on the ereaders, but come on, it's not like underlining John 3:16 in the redletter version of the New Testament. That highlight is impersonal. When I mark in a book, it's because I have found a personal connection.

And that's the way certain books have become old friends, collected, in view, and available for renewal at any time. I can go back and leaf through them and be astounded again, or bring memories  back, or the places where I bought them.

In our house the bookshelves are scattered, and not orderly and sterile like the TV law libraries you see. The books on those shelves have degrees of personality just like the books. Susan also uses them to help decorate, under lamps, on tables, and elsewhere. They're part of who we are.

Poetry corner
In one oak cabinet behind glass doors is my New Mexico collection, along with Larry McMurtry books, John McPhee volumes, and books on grizzly bears and a few others. Another corner shelf has poetry books, anchored by my old undergraduate textbook on Whitman. There are books on the west, Harry Potter first editions. One shelf has travel books on it, another antique books with yellowed, brittle pages. I love old books that were inscribed as gifts long ago to forgotten people. They add romance and mystery to books like James Oliver Curwood's The Flaming Forest, or Nancy Drew books.

Art books
I try to collect first edition books  and signed books from authors I treasure.  One is a first edition Hemingway "The Moveable Feast." Many are gifts from people who matter, and are tokens of time gone by and memories treasured, including Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness." In my studio are shelves with art books on them, many from my Dad, and the newer art books, with full color reproductions in them would never be important on a seven inch disposable device. I can't imagine a house without books and bookshelves. I imagine there will be a day when bookshelves are a thing of the past, Perhaps like  handwriting.

Yes, we've recently cleaned many out that just cluttered the shelves. They're in the garage, ready to be sold or given away. Sort of like erasing a book from an e-reader.  But not the ones on my book shelves that I love to pick up and turn pages in.

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