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.