The book as an object

I’m not a bibliophile of the first order by any means.  I may be perpetually running out of shelf space, but having seen houses where the stacks of books dictated where you could walk, sit, or sleep, I know I’m not even close to that level of book hoarding.  My library’s a mess, organized by what will fit where rather than any real system. (I visited a friend’s house recently and had an attack of book envy when I learned that not only did they have separate rooms for fiction and nonfiction, but that the nonfiction was arranged by Library of Congress rules.)  And with some exceptions, I don’t treat my books well.  Paperbacks get bent, creased, rained on, used to hold recipes in place, bled on, and used to prop up furniture, though hardcovers work better for that purpose.

But I still assign a certain power to books, and a certain quality that’s entirely independent from their contents. I have real trouble throwing away or recycling a book, no matter how bad it is or how unlikely I am to ever read it again.  I feel better carrying a book around with me, just for the knowledge that if I’m stuck somewhere, I’ll have reading material.  There’s almost a talismanic quality to them.

Which is what makes it so weird to open a book and realize that the words in it were words I strung together.  It’s as if there’s a block between the first perception of the book and the story that I wrote.  I can’t quite match one to the other, and whenever I read something of mine in print, there’s always this strange disconnect, as if I’m reading through a mask or as if someone else is reading the words in my ear.  It’s like one last separation between me and the text.

I recently received my ARCs for Wild Hunt and my contributor’s copies of Best Horror of the Year 1, and that’s what’s driving this particular line of thought.  (That, and having handed over my draft of the third novel to BRAWL, I’m in that scattered, vacant state of thought perhaps best expressed in Edward Gorey’s The Unstrung Harp.  Concentrating on anything more than a short story is a little difficult at the moment.)  It’s very strange to have worked on something for so long to bring it to this point and then be unable to recognize it.

I don’t know if this is just one of those weird author neuroses.  (Lord knows I’ve got my own complement of those.)  And of course, this is all changing now with the advent of the Kindle and other e-book readers.  I haven’t yet used one of these, so I have no idea how I’ll react to text in this new format.  (I don’t have quite the same reaction reading work online; maybe it’s just that I’m used to reading my work off a screen.)

Does anyone else have this weird talismanic relationship to books, or the same reaction to seeing their work in print?  Or can I just add this to the list of strange reactions to writing?

6 Responses to “The book as an object”

  1. November 4, 2009 at 10:51 am

    I certaainly have a talismanic relatiionship to books. Drives me nuts when I don’t have a book around to pick up and read. Like for the last few months. 🙂

    Unfortunately, I’ve never had anything more than potry in print, and that in a non-paying online anthology. So I’m not sure if I would have that reaction. But sometimes, when I pick up an old draft of something, it can be shocking how unfamilar the writing feels compared to how I remember that story.

  2. 2 Terri-Lynne
    November 4, 2009 at 3:28 pm

    I often find myself disconnected from my own work, but in a good way. When I forget I’m reading my own stuff and that internal editor switches off, it gives me little shivers. It’s very rare my internal editor turns off, no matter how great the book I’m reading. I always find a little something here, a little something there. It’s bothersome, but whachagonnado? I don’t think that’s the same thing you were getting at, but this is my reaction.

    I recently read Zafon’s, “The Angel’s Game,” and in it, one of the characters says that books have souls; its the soul of the writer, and the souls of the readers melding to create the soul of the book. Every time someone opens the covers and reads it again, the soul breathes, it grows, it changes. I think that might be the magic that turns otherwise sane people into book junkies. We can feel that soul. We want to be part of it.

  3. 3 rachel aaron
    November 4, 2009 at 3:39 pm

    The farther away I get from something I wrote, the more I like it. It helps that I have a short and non-specific memory. I bet by the time I get actual printed copies of my books in my hands, I won’t remember whole sections. That should be strange indeed.

    I am happy to hear I’m not the only author who doesn’t drown in books. I mean, I have a lot of books, but they all fit on three book cases (thought the paper backs are double stacked). I purge my books often, mostly because I hate dusting them (HOW DO BOOKS GET SO DUSTY?!). If I haven’t opened a book in a year, it goes off to the Goodwill to make someone else happy.

    A few years ago I couldn’t ever get rid of a book. But now, mostly because of serious time spend separating the physical book from the story inside, I no longer feel like I’m betraying the characters by letting a book go. After all, I bought the book and supported the author! The book doesn’t need to sit around my house building a dust empire for me to prove how much I love it.

    It took me a LONG time to get to that point!

  4. 4 sue
    November 4, 2009 at 8:28 pm

    Once my daughter was driving my car and, for some reason, had to wait for something. She gave the problem a moment of thought, and then went digging around my car for a book–any book. She knew deep down that I would have at least one “emergency book” in the car. And I did. Her sanity was saved.

    How many of y’all have emergency books in your vehicles?

  5. 5 mlronald
    November 5, 2009 at 9:18 am

    atsiko, that’s why it always takes me a while to get back into an old story if I’ve left it too long before revising (as I’m doing now, now that I have some time for it). On the other hand, sometimes that makes it easier to fix the old story.

    Terri-Lynne, that’s the greatest feeling. If I can get to the bottom of a page and realize that not only do I have any changes to it but I also really enjoyed it, then I know I’m getting close to what I first imagined.

    Rachel, yeah, dusting…(sheepishly glances at undusted shelves). Although that’s a good point about supporting the author; if I know I won’t reread it, then I don’t need to keep it. (Now the problem becomes shutting up that little voice that says “but what if you want to read it again?”)

    Ha! Emergency book hurray! I don’t have a vehicle, but I usually have either a notebook or a paperback in my purse. Definitely in my backpack (which becomes a problem when I’m looking for that one book and can’t figure out why it isn’t on the shelves). And a few on the heap on my desk, just in case I need them.

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