The first chapter, which details the spread of the fire and what it consumed, and how much it destroyed actually almost brought me to tears. The thought of all those things gone. Gone forever. Not just books, but manuscripts, magazines, photographs, films, ephemera and so much more. All the library fires and book burnings that have taken place over the history of mankind, encapsulated in an inferno that is brought vividly to life in the pages of another book. When the author talked about the reactions of the librarians who were watching the fire from outside, I almost cried again. It says a lot about me, I think, and a lot about a lot of people, that such an event could be so devastating. In one chapter, the author decides to burn a book to get a feel for what actually happens when a book is set alight. She found the thought of it and the action of it indescribably difficult. She talked about how even throwing away a book was nearly impossible, just like the idea of throwing away a living plant. It resonated so much with me. I remember my visceral reaction the first time I found out about altered books...technically art, but O! the desecration. And I laughed to think of all the poinsettias I've hung onto for MONTHS after the holidays because I couldn't just throw them away. Now I rarely buy them, just so I won't have to be faced with discarding them just because the holiday they represent is over.
The author, Susan Orlean, described her own childhood visits to the library with her mother, and I was instantly transported to visits to our libraries (and there were many, since we moved so much). Coming home with a big pile of books was such a delight. Checking out favorites (D'aulaires' Book of Greek Myths especially) over and over. The special crinkle of the mylar/plastic covers. The little pockets in the back with the crookedly stamped dates of check out and return. I don't remember any specific library building; I suspect they were the rather generic base libraries that were available to us military brats. I also remember very fondly a bookmobile that was dark and cozy and full of wonderful finds, but I cannot for the life of me remember WHERE we lived when it was a thing in my life.
I took the kids to the little library here in Flyinge when they were small, but not that much...it was fine for the kids, but there was only one shelf of books in English and unfortunately, they were invariably the types of best sellers and classics that I had either already read or had no desire to read. I could order books from the library system, but it was often easier to just buy my own, since my tastes are pretty specific, and eclectic. It kind of makes me sad now to think that my children, despite being surrounded by books in our house and all the reading we did together, probably didn't have the kind of childhood library experience that I remember.
And in keeping with my frequent thoughts about dying, she makes reference to an expression from Senegal which is used to politely say that someone has died: "his or her library has burned." Yes! That is exactly what happens. Your whole life, and all you have writ upon it, your own hearth-fire, gone out, burnt up, disappeared.
This blog is an attempt to put the fire of my life in a place where it won't go up in smoke when I do. Having it printed into book form each year is another attempt. No one wants to disappear and even if my life is, ultimately, insignificant, it's still full of things that were important or funny or topical or interesting...hopefully, to someone. I worry not just about my own books but the books I own. I want someone to love them after I've gone. I suspect I can't trust my family...none of them read that much. But I hope that they will make their way into the homes of people who will also read and reread and treasure them.
I bought the book on Kindle, looking for something to fill the gap between the excellent book I finished last night (Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver) and the what I've heard is another excellent book that is for book group on December 6 (Educated by Tara Westover), thinking that because it was non-fiction, it might take me a little longer to read. I typically don't start the book group book until about a week and a half before our discussion; too far in advance and it won't be fresh in my mind to talk about.
I'm only 30% of the way through this book, but I can already tell that I'll devour it quickly...it's that good, and that interesting. I'll have to fill the gap with more than one book at this rate. Good thing she's written more books for me to read!