June 03, 2024

Arranging my Books

Last night I had my first restful sleep in the new apartment. I enjoy the maple tree outside my bedroom window. It's a room on a corner, so the light and leaves stream in one window and out the other. Last night the wood floors were swept and polished, the rugs laid, the computer reassembled, although I noticed that the pipes underneath my bathroom sink, which must be at least eighty years old, have rusted away, dumping toothpasty water onto the floor.

I still have no phone--I can't find the phone jack! This is unconceivable to me. It must be in the flat somewhere, but I searched for about an hour last night, on my hands and knees. It's no where to be found. I discovered original four-pronged power outlets and two cable hookups, but no phone jack.

Like Benjamin, I saved my books for last. I removed them from their boxes, dusted the ones that needed dusting, and sat them in stacks beside the bookcases. Like Benjamin, arranging one's books is a calming task for me, best left when other more grueling moving-in chores have been completed, such as finding the phone jack. It's the final rite, the act that says I'm home.

What memories crowd in around me as I sit before the stacks! This is a time of reappraisal; for seeing again the volumes that have brought me to where I am. While waiting for the floors to dry in another room, I pick up books I haven't touched in months. Some books appear to me as strangers: here's a worn hardcover copy of Wolfe's You Can't Go Home Again. Who was the boy that took such a strange tome away with him to a corner of the high school lunch room? Why did these words stick to him then, but fall away from me now? Was it because he knew he'd be leaving home that autumn, never to return?

There are some books that endure outside efforts to replace them with shiny, more durable editions: here's my Penguin paperback edition of On the Road, which, though I've been given other, nicer copies, remains my choice whenever I reread the book that, more than any other, has been like gasoline on my mind. I place it on the top shelf next the rest of Kerouac's works; they take up half a shelf, more than any other author. Next to him I place the other Americans, and realize some books are missing. Here's my first British edition of Another Country, but where is the paperback? And then I realize my friend Scott has it, and it's probably with him in Montmartre right this minute, and then I see I have two copies of Welcome to My Planet and realize one is inscribed to Scott, and I should have given it to him long ago, and I think of one of the last times I saw him, how we walked arm and arm through London, a little tipsy, singing Judy Garland songs to the pigeons, and how sad I am that we have lost touch.

With this move, I have split up my books into fiction, and nonfiction. Each occupy different shelves, in different rooms. The division unsettles me this morning. For the first time, Nietzsche, Freud, and Foucault occupy adjacent spaces on the top shelf of the bookcase in the living room. They do not seem to fit. While they might represent a leap-frogging history of theory, an undergrad's chronology, their proximity does not match their places in my mind. I'd rather Foucault be closer to my bed, with the fiction, closer to the other seeds of myself--Genet, Kerouac--the touchstones on which every pursuit since has sprung forth. Foucault comes before Niezstche in my own chronology. This division does not work for me. For one thing, I have twice as many fiction as nonfiction books. The leftover shelves of the nonfiction bookcase should then house my photo albums and the twenty or so spiral notebooks I've filled since the age of sixteen. But does that make sense? There is also little cohesion among the nonfiction. Apart from the solid echelon of Nietzsche-Freud-Foucault, there is little agreement among the urbanists, queer theorists, cyberculturalists. Each book yawns at its neighbor's polemics.

I'd rather arrange my books in concentric rings rather than rows backed up against the wall. There would be the heavier tomes nearest my bed, the books we reach for when we can't sleep and seek to plunge our hands down some well of of our past. That would be the poetry of Whitman and Frost, whose words have followed me since my early teen years. I still remember the discovery of the Calamus poems, without any guidance, divined by my own need.

Farther out would be Hemingway, whose works echoed the loneliness of my youth, and Kerouac, the gasoline. I'd add to them the books that follow me everywhere--Genet, Bowen, Giovanni's Room. Can you see how perfect a find Bowen was at the time, when I was living in a flea-infested room in Brixton with a view of Trelawn Road, struggling with my own half-finished novel, out all night among the mangy foxes, sad in the London drizzle? Can you see what a miracle finding Bowen in an Electric Avenue shop was? And how she must follow me wherever I go now? And Genet, who should be closely shelved to Foucault (perhaps that's where my uneasiness stems from, seeing these books orphaned from their twins), and the paper I wrote on his works, and how turned on I was that weekend in Steven's Square, and how I'd write a page of theory and then fall to my bed to jerk off, then rise and write another page, then fall again. How could I leave Our Lady of the Flowers? (I have recently found a first American edition of the book in a second-hand store across the river; it will haunt my dreams until I buy it) Farthest out will be the pretty books I set beside chairs in my living room to tempt visitors, to give them something to do while I brew coffee. And, hidden somewhere in the shelves, a book that has followed me around since high school but is not a book, hollowed out to form a pocket in which I keep a one-hitter.

It's now past midnight, and there's a bit of sadness to the proceedings as the final books are shelved. For invariably, a few volumes won't find room on the shelves. Like the kids picked last for dodge ball, I feel sorry for them; worthy enough, they just didn't catch my eye. Carson McCullers without a home? A travesty! An important marker of my highschool years, I'll probably have to move my collected works of Poe to another shelf. Poe means nothing to me. McCuller's, at least, gives me an inkling of who I once was. Far from reseigning itself to a mere object, an accoutrement, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter is a co-conspirator in my memories. You see, I have a problem with the opiate of nostalgia; these books enable my addiction.

Posted by jason at June 3, 2024 10:28 PM