Monday, July 30, 2007

Too Many Books?

I used to congratulate myself on not being a materialistic person.

Oh Lord, I thank you I am not like the rest of men, amassers of money, clothes, electronics. . .

But after I had packed over 100 boxes of books (at which point I lost count), I began to wonder. I had always considered books to be the least worldly of possessions because they seemed to be the least tangible. Sure, they take up physical space, but what are they really? Not cardboard and paper. They are the incarnation of someone's thoughts, dreams, wisdom or imagination. When we write -- especially fiction -- we come closest to imitating God the Creator, in whose likeness we are made.

When God creates he makes something out of nothing, bringing matter itself into existence by an act of thought and will. Writing is as close as we can come to creating, using words to embody our thoughts and bringing into being somthing that did not exist before.

But is it possible to have too many books? I'm still not sure, but I did do some weeding as I packed.

Months have passed, and the continental mass has shrunk to a major island, the dining room has returned to the function for which it was intended, and the bedchamber, now the library annex, could actually hold a bed if there weren't so many bookshelves in it. The main portion of the library is housed in what was originally a master bedroom. I've removed the sliding doors from the huge (157 inches wide!) closet and filled the resulting alcove with five BILLY bookcases from Ikea. Matching bookcases line the other three walls, and there is a double row of short ones running down the center of the room.

As you can see, it's starting to look like a real library. I feel very peaceful when I sit at my computer (just off-screen to the left), surrounded by my books.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Obligatory Harry Potter

I suppose one can't have a book-related blog without saying something about Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

My copy arrived promptly on July 21st even though I opted for Amazon's free Super Saver Shipping.

Um, I only read a few chapters that day because I was busy with another book. And I made an embarrassing discovery -- I'd forgotten stuff from the previous volume. Hmm, who is this character? And this one? Harry saved Dudleys life?!? Sheesh! I guess I really don't put these books into long term memory. However, I plowed on figuring that after a little neural stimulation everything would start coming back. (And it did.)

J.K. Rowling is not a very good writer and her world making is sloppy, but she is a good storyteller. Sometimes that is all you need for a fun book. And sometimes a fun book is really all you want.

When I was in early high school, I read The Count of Monte Christo. It was a Christmas gift from my parents who probably chose it because it was listed in the Sears catalogue. (They are not bookish people.) Anyway, I fell in love with it. I read it several times. I even summoned up the courage to tell my English teacher about it, referring to it as "a great book." To my surprise, he shot me down, telling me that it wasn't a great book. It was good book, but not a great one.

Being very shy, I made no reply. But I stubbornly clung to my opinion for several years. Then I had to admit he was right -- good, but not great. It's a fun book which I haven't read in decades, but I will probably read it again.

But getting back to HP7 . . .

I thought Snape's backstory was interesting, but presenting it as a core dump reminded me of a scene in The Great Muppet Caper.

Miss Piggy: Why are you telling me all this?

Lady Holiday: It's plot exposition. It has to go somewhere.
Uh, yeah.

I did not have a problem with Dumbledore turning out to be more manipulating and personally messed up that we had previously thought. After all, as we grow older our perception of parents begins to shift from the all-knowing, all-powerful figures of childhood to something more fallible and human. Since Dumbledore is a father figure to Harry, this is a reasonable development.

But I was very disappointed by Dumbledore's Snape-assisted suicide. Not so much that it took place, but that it was presented as morally neutral. That he was already terminally injured was supposed to be sufficient justification. This is not a message we need in the current culture of death. But I don't think that Rowling even recognizes this as a significant issue.

But there are a lot of things about the moral frame work of this series that bother me. (And no, it's not the witchcraft and occult accusations that cause so many Christians to hyperventilate. Harry Potter is not occult. The "magic" performed by the characters in Harry Potter is more like playing with a chemistry set. Mix these ingredients together under these conditions and -- bingo -- you'll get this physical reaction.)

Take this whole issue of mindwiping Muggles. Eeeuuuww! And these are the good guys?

Rowling continues to be pretty fuzzy about the whole issue of death, the dead, and the afterlife, though I suppose that's just part of her sloppy world building.

I do like the way that Rowling handled Harry's realization that he was going to have to voluntarily lay down his life.

As usual, what I enjoy most about the Harry Potter books are the imaginative details. Ya gotta love that Tardis-like tent which is larger inside than outside. And the wonderful image of that blue eye in the broken bit of mirror.

I was sure that Neville was going to do something splendid by the end of the series, and Rowling exceeded my expectations there.

I was so pleased that Mrs. Weasley got to be the one to take out Bellatrix. That rang true! (Because you don't mess with a MomLady, especially where her cubs are concerned. I bet all of us stay-at-home moms are cheering on this one.)

By the way, I also liked the epilogue. I've heard some people say that it was just Rowling's attempt to head off fan fiction. But I found it very satisfying. Of course, I'm really into reading Victorian novels where it is customary at the end of the novel to tell the reader what happens to all of the major (and some of the minor) characters and their yet unborn children. After all, you've just been through three volumes and maybe around 800 pages -- you deserve to know these things. It would be too abrupt to just stop at the end of the plot. And the readers of Harry Potter have invested a lot more reading time than even the readers of Nicholas Nickleby!

For a long and well reasoned review of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, do click over to DarwinCatholic.

Update: I have no idea why the line spacing changed half way through this post.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Boxes, Boxes, Everywhere

I moved into this house in piecemeal fashion. Brothers, family friends, a brother-in-law, and anyone I knew with a kind heart and a strong back helped me to move in whatever hours they could spare. So in dribs and drabs the boxes piled up in my new living room.

I was using boxes scavenged from Barnes & Noble (19 x 13 x 8.5) which were far too heavy for me to lift once they were filled with books but posed no problems for my masculine helpers. (Thank you, O Lord, for giving that half of the human race greater upper body strength!)

Soon the living room held a majestic continent of boxes stacked three high. Peninsulas jutted out into the dining area, and an archipelago of boxes made it difficult to navigate one's way through the smaller downstairs bedroom. It is fortunate that I have no living room furniture!

Friday, July 27, 2007

Another Bibliophagist

"Just the knowledge that a good book is awaiting one at the end of a long day makes that day happier."

Kathleen Norris, Hands Full of Living, 1931.
Kathleen Norris, (1880-1966) the author of sixty-five novels and two hundred short stories, knew what she was talking about -- she and her family were confirmed bibliophagists. In the introduction to These I Like Best, Norris describes her bibliophagic family:
We who grew up in a small house in the heart of a redwood forest must have swept, I believe, through three hundred books a year. We ranged furiously from Macaulay's England to Dotty Dimple's Cousin Prudy. We read Newman's Apologia and Mrs. Craven's Recit d'une Soeur. We raked books off the shelves by the dozen and hauled them along on picnics, to haylofts, up oak trees, to bath and to bed. The one terrifying possibility was to find oneself without a book. My father put Othello or The Tempest into his pocket when he took us off for a Sunday walk; and although my mother religiously burned Nick Carters wherever she found them, she was invariably too late. Dinner table talk was of books, and one sister . . . saved herself the trouble of making a poetry collection, as the rest of us did in blank books, by simply memorizing everything she liked, once and for all.
I like their omnivorous and catholic taste. Norris's list of books reminds me of the contents of my own library which range from the works of Dante to those of P.G. Wodehouse; from the poetry of John Donne to the adventures of John Carter of Mars.

I will never be embarassed to admit that I sometimes consume the literary equivalent of fun food. But not, I hope, stuff that is bad or really lame.* If you find a Star Trek novel in my library, you can be sure it's a really good Star Trek novel, like Barbara Hambly's Ishmael (which is also a spin-off of Here Come the Brides).

*For example, I didn't finish reading Hiero's Journey. In fact, I chucked it in the trash. And it wasn't just because of the giant mutant telepathic beavers. It was baaaaaad! (But how did it ever find its way into our house?)

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

First Boring Post

I cannot think of any way around it. The first post is bound to be boring.

Here I am, standing up in cyberspace, waving my hand and saying, "Hello, I'm starting a blog!" just as if someone were interested in what I have to say.

I am a 55 year old widow who has recently moved herself and her library into a much smaller house. Consider what that means. I have picked up, dusted, considered the merits of, and discarded or packed every book which my husband and I collected during nearly 30 years of marriage -- not to mention the ones we brought with us as dowries. We're talking thousands of books! And now I am unpacking them and arranging them on their shelves.

During this whole process I found myself generating a mental monologue about the books I was handling, the authors who had written them, the time and place when I had first read a particular book, and the philosophy of book collecting. And that is mostly what this blog is going to be about -- as well as related subjects such as libraries and the process of reading.

My daughter suggested "Catholic Bibliophagist" as a title for this blog, and I think it is a fitting one. I have always been a devourer of books. And I am a Catholic with a catholic (note the lower case "c") library.