The last few days we have been building more shelves, moving and sorting books. Little gives me such pleasure as finding books that I had forgotten about, books read, books still to read. Remembering who I was when I last visited those pages, finding myself there, finding myself changed. Nothing makes me feel rich like the possession of books (or at least the access to them), ‘you will have enough’ they seem to tell me, ‘you will be warm’, ‘you will not starve’, ‘you will forge your place in the world’, as they did assure me as I was growing up. Literature saved me, and I am grateful. I have lost count of the times that I have had to pack, move, unpack, arrange books in new rooms. Each time of course I have tried to let some go, given them away, perchance sold them. Not too many. There are always more, even though I always have had access to libraries, and I do love libraries especially those where the voices are hushed and people have come to study. (In those places we breathe in our shared heritage, our shared access to our common learning, concentrated life.) I have often wondered why I had not become a librarian—perhaps because my ways of ordering are far too personal.
Books are the one area of my life where I have not tried to curb my hoarding muscles too stringently. There is an emotional dimension there of course and I sometimes wonder what will happen to them when I pass away, a lot of those books having ended up in my possession when the previous owner ceased to need them. A lot of those books come from my living next door to the wonderful Greene’s Bookshop on Clare street in Dublin for almost five years : those have a ridiculously low price scribbled in pencil on the last page. Greene’s bookshop no longer exists, and a lot of people choose electronic media these days, too busy with gadgets perhaps to spend time with a musty-smelling book. These days I am very rich indeed, I have gained access to two more libraries with my new student status, and so I have not yet taken the time to open either of the last two issues of The London Review of Books which I have left packed in their plastic pouch to not lose track of my progress.
It is fitting that while I was toying with those notions of Plenty and Enough today I happened upon, first the beautifully composed portraits that Huang Qingjun has been taking for the last ten years of rural Chinese Families posing with everything they own dragged outside their home and then the Mother Earth’s News review of Two Winters in a Tipi, Mark Warren’s account of what enriching turn his life took after ‘a lightning bolt struck (his) tin-roofed farmhouse and burned everything to the ground’. Some comfort can indeed be gotten from the material world but it is good to remember that life is possible with much much much less.