Iconic books are texts revered as objects of power rather than just as words of instruction, information, or insight. In religious and secular rituals around the globe, people carry, show, wave, touch and kiss books and other texts, as well as read them. This blog chronicles such events and activities. (For more about iconic books, see the links to the Iconic Books Project at left.)

Monday, January 25, 2010

Book Addiction

Stephen Gertz on Book Patrol reflects on the case of Irving Leif, who though facing financial ruin can't bring himself to sell his book collection. The post becomes more interesting though as Gertz reflects on his own experience as a hard-up collector:

The period 1988-1999 was one of great difficulty and there were times when I had to consider selling my books. It was a wrenching decision - and my collection was no where near the size or value of Leif’s. I resisted, muddling along somehow, finding money someplace else, or just letting debt slide as I hunkered down in my house of books. The books comforted me; they were my friends. I think I also had the inchoate sense that to sell was to admit failure, not as a collector but as an adult. My self-worth was directly tied to the collection.

But there comes a time, and it came for me, when an extremely cold shower and hard slap are necessary to awaken dormant reality. The books have to go. It was, without over-dramatizing the situation, one of the most difficult decisions I’ve ever had to make. I made it and began to sell off, a few books at a time, the whole of my collection to a dealer I knew and trusted ...

And then the most amazing thing happened: My life opened up. It was as if I had been clinging to a sinking rock to keep it (and myself) afloat. When I let go, I rose to the surface, alive and able to breathe.

I’ve become superstitious about establishing a new collection; I don’t want to mess with karma. The comfort I feel amongst rare and antiquarian books is satisfied by my work in the trade; I’m surrounded by them every day. I don’t need to own them

Gertz's words echo not just psychological but religious language. And while I suspect that addictions to various kinds of objects and substances could be depicted similarly, it seems that experiences with books are especially susceptible to being described this way.

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