Saturday, June 16, 2007

Books books books

I love books. I have thousands of them. When we moved to this house, the removal man, after hulking dozens and dozens of boxes from the van to the house said: "There's only two kinds of people have this many books: Reverends and Doctors. Which kind are you? Well, it's the latter: a Doctor of Geology. Which explains the comment of another removal man who, while heaving a tea chest up the stairs, wheezed: "What you got in here Guv? Rocks?" Well, yes, actually.

The problem with constantly buying books is that eventually you have to get rid of them. I thought I had found a solution to this problem by transferring some down to the large cellar under our house. It seemed clean and dry, had fluorescent lighting, and was painted throughout. I set up some book shelves and have been stacking them high. As new tomes pour in through the front door, old tomes have been slipping down the back stairs.

But oh dear, I hadn't reckoned on the walls of the cellar being porous and permeable. I guess it must have been quite dry here in France over the last few years, because after the storm and associated heavy rain a couple of weeks ago, we witnessed, for the first time, water leaking into our cellar. It didn't seem to add up to much, so we just ignored it, as you do. A big mistake. Within days we noticed a funny smell which I took to be a damp and horrible old armchair my wife had rescued from outside someone's house during the self-same thunderstorm.

When we eventually got around to checking, the smell turned out to be my books! The wall behind them was wet, there was no air circulating, it was humid, and green mould was making its way all over them. So began a rescue operation that has now been going on for about a week. First, removal from the zone of risk. Secondly drying. Thirdly dusting off mould. Fourthly, throwing away the unsaveable. Fifthly, trying to flatten back into shape the saveable.

Now that the basement is a danger zone, I have had to decide what to keep and what to get rid of. So, sixthly, boxing up and getting rid of the unwanted. Seventhly, making space for that which remains.

This weekend was the school fete, so four well-packed boxes went off to that (not mouldy books you understand) and there got well rained on. How horrible to see these books for which one has pledged protection, going out into the world to such a cruel end. It really made me feel quite sick. A few made it safely into shopping bags and will no doubt end up loved on someone else's bookshelf, but it felt rather like watching that animal film where a herd of young gnus cross a crocodile infested river and only one or two of them make it out on the other side.

As for the books that remain, they will be better looked after, more read. I am going to stop buying books for a while. The pain's gone too deep.


Anonymous said...

I feel your pain, Jonathan. I feel just as protective of my library, to the extent that I stopped lending books to friends after one or two never made it home again.

Jonathan Wonham said...

Hello again Stuart, thanks for your comment. How come I can't follow you're name to a blog? Are you on another system? It was really nice talking to you last week at the picnic. Sorry, I didn't send you the details of the reading. Things were a bit rushed before heading off on Sunday.

As for books, I wish I had more of an easy come, easy go attitude. The books I let go to the fete were not that great, but I felt bad for them just the same. I must be a sentimentalist.

Lucy said...

Oh this makes one want to weep!
I think I have more or less abandoned the idea that every book is sacred and must be preserved, only some.
Now and then we have a throwing out blitz and take a disproportionately long trip to Josselin where there is an English language bookshop and we think a better chance of our discards finding a good home, or at least somebody else has to make the decision about binning them!

Jonathan Wonham said...

Hello Lucy. Well, that's a turn up. My sister-in-laws parents run the English bookshop in Josselin. You must mention our acquaintance the next time you go there!

Anonymous said...

My heart goes out! When we moved nearly two years ago the most overwhelming problem was how to avoid having to get rid of even one of my thousands of books. So we spent three grand on a 'garden office' - a shed with pretensions - & they're nearly all in there, crammed, stacked & tottering, but safe!

Good luck with your ongoing clean-up.

Jonathan Wonham said...

Thanks Dick. I hope your "shed with pretensions" is precociously water-tight!

Anonymous said...

Oh, my sympathies - that must have been such a shock, and mould can grow so quickly. I suppose there is no economic way of damp-proofing the cellar?

P.S. Somehow or other your posts have not been picked up by my bloglines recently. No idea how that's happened but it seems OK now.

Anonymous said...

Sighs...we too in the process of reminiscing about (me)/packing and urging me to cull through (my sort-of understanding husband) my thousands of books (how did I accumulate so many by age 32?) in preparation for a move. I've tried to explain to him why it's so hard to turn them loose, but I'm not sure I fully comprehend the reasons myself. For me, I think, there's something rather experiential about them to which I cling. Almost as though they were keepsakes from a voyage.

I promised him I'd carry all the book boxes if he'd just let me keep them...

Jonathan Wonham said...

Hello Clare - glad bloglines is working again. I'm still reading you, I just couldn't think of anything to write about green tea, except perhaps that we have an air freshener in our bathroom called 'rituel du thé'! It was such a wacky name, I just had to buy it.

Yes, mould spreads very quickly, especially, it seems, when there is high humidity as we have had here. No. I don't think we can do anything about the wet. It's not our house, and really it needs a proper impermeable membrane putting in.

Kelly - thanks for your comment. Do you have a blog? I understand completely. I find it very difficult to part with books as well. But it's irrational really. If a book can be easily replaced, why make a fuss about letting it go? I think it may be quite a deep problem of psychology. Something to do with having appropriated a certain piece of knowledge, invested it with particular significance (because you chose it) and then not wanting to let go because that would mean a sort of rejection of the significance it has been given, which means also to reject something of yourself.

Anonymous said...

Jonathan, I have no blog...I never really have anything to say of any great interest (not that that ever seems to stop me from commenting).

For those keeping score (me), move accomplished, no books relinquished!

Ivy said...

Jonathan, that's a big ouch!

When I came over to the UK, I just had to bring some [not all, alas] of my books over. I remember saying, rather melodramtically, 'I'd rather go without clothes than without my books!' :-)

Ms Baroque said...

What a shocking story. The web of life is so fragile. This kind of stuff always makes me think how amazing it is that we know anything at ALL about previous civilisations.

Mind you, maybe they won't miss your mildewed Jeffrey Archers!


Jonathan Wonham said...

Kelly - well done!

Ivy - that conjures an interesting image!

Ms - If only they were JAs!