My friend Josey wrote a lovely post today about the stacks of books beside her bed and how they reflect her self-image. She says:
There was a time when I made excuses about the way in which I buy books, one after another, no discipline, no waiting until I’ve finished one before buying another one or two or three or four. Whether or not I read them right away (or ever) is no longer a consideration. I cherish books. They comfort me in the same way looking at art can give someone a sense of themselves. Books reflect back to me something about myself, something I consider sacred. Something that has been with me since the beginning of me. I do not remember a time when there wasn’t a book on my nightstand.
I like this sense of connectedness, especially to the idea of a book we have yet to read. The story is so pure at that stage, so pristine in its tidy jacket—not unlike the beginning stages of the book before it’s written, existing only in the writer’s mind. The story is better at this point than it ever will be on paper. Every writer knows this is true, but before today I never stopped to think that it could be the same for the reader.
For me, the books I want to buy reflect as much about my personality as the ones I’ve read a dozen times. Because I write thrillers, I want to love them as a reader; I imagine myself gobbling them up as fast as they hit the shelves, knowing all the characters’ names and back stories, all their psychic wounds. I dream of a collection of memoir from far-flung points with exotic names and historical significance. I try hard to love the classics, the brainy books, the fat literary hardbacks with distinguished names on the covers and authors who show up on national TV. I want to love erotica. And cozy mysteries. And science fiction. And romance.
And I do love them, that’s the thing. Whether or not I choose those books for myself, I love that they exist, that they’re part of our culture, that other people have devoured them. I feel as connected to the books I haven’t read as the ones that I adore.
But for the most part, the nightstand collection I imagine for myself is not the one I’ve actually accumulated. The books I’m drawn to have a certain look about them: they’re slim and dark, trade paper usually, and when you look through the pages you’ll see a fair amount of negative space. They almost all involve deep character studies of precocious children. (I’ve only just realized that. Children are the common denominator.) They are usually light on references to the establishment; the characters exist on the periphery, and they tend to start and resolve their problems amongst themselves. The communities are often poor. The settings are rural. And people get badly hurt, but they fight like hell going down.
I don’t read widely, or with any particular emphasis on the kinds of books I like to write. My tastes are narrower than I wish they were, more limited in scope than they probably should be. I get passionately attached to certain books and reread them obsessively, which means that I don’t get through as many as I’d like to. But that’s okay. There are no shoulds in reading that truly influence me. There are only books, wonderful books, in all their prim (or raggedy) jackets, waiting for me to crack them open.
What does your bedside book collection say about you?