Talk And Thought

One evening, feeling oddly energetic, I thought I would wade through my book collection – intending to dip my hands into the glinting river of words and photographs, to lift each book up and then tell it to its face whether it could stay or not.

A hard job, but a necessary one.  It had reached a point when I would have to use a blasting compound (oh, how the neighbors would fuss) to mine the desired book.  And of course, if any room was freed up, it meant that I was now able to buy more.  A Catch Twenty-Who Cares situation, actually.

In the course of my burrowing I extracted, delicately and with a dentist's art, many titles.  Titles that taught me dialogues, dialects, style, how to think and how to see:  beyond my life, beyond my time, beyond my city, beyond the black of my dreaming eyelids.

I found books that I had forgotten:

A pocket-sized 'Cyrano de Bergerac' (with owner's signature and date:  1900)
'The Edwardians' by Vita Sackville-West (signed, "To Claire Beresford, Christmas, The Antibes – 1930.  From D.")
'The Diary of a Young Lady of Fashion In The Year 1764-1765' by her 'kinsman' Alexander Blacker Kerr ("To Helen with much love, Aunt Janet – 1926") 

And then I took out a very sorry littlte thing.

It had lost its cover.  Tape yellowed the binder.  The edges were thin:  like tissue, like skin.  The brown pages were weak and torn.  It smelled musty, woodsy – thinking perhaps of the forests where those pages were born, shaved from fragrant acres of fallen trees.  When I picked it up, it fell apart in flakes – words and phrases scattered into my hands.

It was my Roget's Pocket Theasurus.  I remember using it in college, when I wrote my history papers – a cup of tea at my elbow, pretending I was a scholar.  I used it for my English compositions, when a word would stop me with the efficiency of Becher's Brook.

Sometimes I would just read it – its Plan of Classification was my Periodic Table.  The trails of definitions and uses were a word's DNA.  It was a book of alchemy, a guide to magic.

Now, I use the thesaurus on my computer – always with a twinge of guilt.  But I always remembered how this little book used to lead me through the tangled path of my language to find its hidden, living words. 

I looked at it gently – I feared that even a hard glance would shatter it – before putting it carefully back.

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12 responses to “Talk And Thought

  1. There's nothing better than the woodsy smell of Really old books, the well-used ones, the ones you fell asleep on.If only they wouldn't fall apart.

  2. In the library we put very fragile books into specially made, acid-free cardboard boxes, so the book can still be on the shelf but protected from the rudeness of the casual user. If you put the thesaurus in a box, maybe it could be on your shelf with a truer title taken from this post, like "Path of My Language" or "Guide to Magic"?

  3. The Thesaurus is one of my loves. I too have a very old one. It is up in the attic but I know exactly where.

    The excerpt above is beautiful.
    Aubrey, 22 years ago one sunny weekday afternoon, while sitting at "Jo
    Jo's in Citta's" bar, keeping my bartender boyfriend company, a man sat
    2 stools down, ordered a beer and quietly read a book. After awhile a
    few pleasantries were exchanged and we asked about the book, which looked an old tome. He had
    just purchased it from a great bookstore down the street called
    Haslam's. He had never been to Haslam's before. He was an out of
    towner. He was an antique book collector as a hobby.
    His full time job was playing Dan Fielding on Nightcourt. I can't remember the name of the book but the man's name was John Larroquette.Have fun wading through your books. I'm sure you are meant to find more.

  4. So…did you actually manage to throw any of them out? Or were they all like puppies who followed you home?

  5. Book-weeding is always a sad task. Books truly are old friends and like friendships–are either temporary from the start, acquaintances, or forever. I have boxes of books in my basement for which I can't decide where they fall and have no more bookshelves on which to fit them.

  6. I agree with Jaypo. Books are like friends. I travel everywhere with them and when it comes to weeding them out–well, it's almost impossible! PS. I'm glad you decided to keep the frail Thesaurus, maybe you could even patch it up a little…

  7. There's a terrific sadness in pointing to a book and saying, 'You – look, we made a go of it, but it just didn't work out. I'm afraid you'll have to leave.'
    It's like a failed relationship.
    BrownA, very few left…there could have been more: for instance, a dictionary I never use, but it has my grandmother's signature (she gave it to me), so it must always stay.

  8. Beautiful expressions. I do so agree. Love my books.

  9. Ah, but you are an artist my friend. The pages are perfect for collage now, preserved under glass or gel medium to carry on new life. Perhaps as part of a skirt on a paper doll, an ornament in your window, a gift for a friend…

  10. The books of mine that have stood the best test of time are the 17th & 18th century ones. I fear taking out many of my SF paperbacks, from the late 1970s, because of the poor quality of manufacture.Aubrey your post reminded me of the writings of a correspondent of mine, now sadly passed away, Helene Hanff ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helene_Hanff ).

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