The first book I read this year—or I should say re-read—was Blaise Pascal’s Pensées.
I have a few copies of the book, for no good reason. One is a relatively new Penguin version: healthy and intact. The other is an aged copy of used bookstore origin. I really like the book—I cycle through it every few years, like writing letters to an old friend—but I really am not sure why I have more than one copy.
This is a recurring problem.
My house is full of books. It is overflowing. My books creep and crawl: on the floor, between pieces of furniture, behind bookcases—where they have fallen and collect dust, only to be resurrected, dusted, and re-shelved.
My wife has patience with my obsession. We have bookcases on bookcases. They fill, they overflow, and that flow snakes into rooms that have no business storing books.
For years, each day brought piles of new books to the mailbox, the doorstep, the driveway in front of the garage. I write about books—lots of books—so the refrain continued. This year, it paused; or I should say, it became virtual. I appreciate the digital access, but I miss fresh new books, arriving through expectation or surprise.
Despite the slowed stream, there are many books in our house. I often send my twin daughters on searches for books. Find me Redeployment or The Crying of Lot 49, I say. They have become good at these literary hunts.
Sometimes they are in separate rooms, like displaced siblings. Other times they are in the same bookcase, separated by wood and brother-and-sister books. Once in a while they are together: twins.
I can’t let go of them. They often have different covers, or different colors. The pagination or font differs. The soul is the same.
Book lovers, those of you who are reading this: you understand. At some point, we fell in love with books. It is a silly love, a stubborn love.
There are worse loves. There are worse devotions. I hope that books have kept you company this year. I hope that some books have given you comfort, and that others have made you feel uncomfortable for good reasons.
I was reading Pascal for a review that I was writing, but like much of my reading, it started with a purpose and was continued by curiosity. I finished the review, but stayed with Pascal for a little bit. I am still with him.
He wrote: “Rivers are roads which move, and which carry us whither we desire to go.”
I hope that 2021 is a gentle river.
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