I’ve been picking away at that rather odious job of cleaning the bookshelves and reshelving all my books, making sure they’re in order, because that’s the kind of reader I am … This is probably also a holdover from my days as a bookseller.
Anyway, it’s a job that needs to be done, but is somewhat like painting the Sydney Bridge – when I get to the end I must start all over again from the beginning. There’s no end of dust, grime, dead insects, dead lizards (no dead mice so far, this time), cat hair, and enough cobwebs that some might consider my name to be Haversham. Plus there’s the toll the sun and seaspray take on all the covers of these books, making them a uniform colour of blue and greasy to the touch.
All the books must be taken down, the shelves vacuumed and scrubbed. That cute little chameleon in the photo is probably responsible for the bulk of the guano we removed today. Then each book must be dusted, wiped clean, opened, the pages fanned and wiped out, and any bookworms cleared away.
It helps if you play some good music and have an espresso to sip on. I’m allergic to dust, so I can only do this for just so long. And it’s just those first three shelves I really need the ladder … and the long arm of Pam, the housekeeper, who comes on Wednesdays and reaches much further than I can from that top step.
And it’s total disasters like this one that I’m looking for when I check and clean each book. Some of the dustcovers have made an ideal lunch for those worms that lurk inside the covers.
Fortunately only the endpapers in this book had been munched. The rest of the book was relatively clean and just the dustcover had to be thrown out.
But there is joy in this job (I keep telling myself) in revisiting all my old friends. Today I was working on shelves that held books by Michael Ondaatje to Anthony Trollope, so that includes my favourite authors, Wallace Stegner and Trollope (the number of his books have stretched to take over the entire third shelf!), authors I represented when I was a rep (like Ted Stone), or whose books I sold in the bookstores, authors who became friends (like Fred Stenson), authors I had the great pleasure to meet who signed all my copies of their books (like Mordecai Richler), authors whose books I’ve always enjoyed reading (like Vikram Seth and Nevil Shute). Then there are books from high school (Le Petit Prince en français, and my Grade 13 Penguin edition of Duddy Kravitz, still held together with an elastic band), and from university (Tolstoy, Thackery, Jonathan Swift, Laurence Sterne, complete editions of Shakespeare and Shaw). The Book of the Month Club editions of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, in boxed presentation sets, had to be defrocked of their worm-eaten dustjackets, but completely surprised me in how pristine they all still were, even after thirty-five or so years of being lugged about Canada and to the Caribbean. And the other surprise was the inclusion in each volume of Lord of the Rings of a tipped-in fold-out map of Middle-earth – copies of the original map Tolkien drew when when he first published the books. Beautiful!
With one book, I remembered a very enjoyable day spent with the author when he came to Calgary for promotion, and today I reread the lovely inscription he’d written to me when I dropped him off at his hotel. Sadly, the author committed suicide not long after that. So not all memories that surfaced this afternoon were sweetness and light.
Most of these books I’ve read at one time or another. Some (two specifically written by Wallace Stegner) I’ve reread more times than I can remember. With just about every book on those shelves I can probably tell you where I bought, why I bought, whether I’ve read, and why I’ve kept them for so long. Because many of these books have followed me around throughout my life … so it’s unlikely I’ll be getting rid of them any time soon, even if they are coated in guano and eaten by worms.
And one is a book I’ve written! I can now add a copy of Island in the Clouds up there, nestled in between Tolstoy and Trollope, as it happens … to gather dust and cobwebs and guano with all the rest of its mates.
But I must say, I do have an increased appreciation for eBooks and eReaders. After all, with one swipe of a clean cloth I remove any dirt and grime and cat hair from the entire library of books stored on the eReader. Plus, at a click, all those books are alphabetized, leaving me more time to … READ!