Tuesday, June 05, 2018
my ex (libris)
Thin cold rain is falling outside and a fire in the woodstove is slowly warming up Hodge, the room, and myself, in that order. (Hodge is closest. He's no fool.) The days are ridiculously full lately but this is a good quiet afternoon to continue our talk about books and bookplates for a bit. And the weather outside suits my interior mood quite well: a bit down, to be honest. Like the barometer, and the rain. Because as I work my way slowly along all the shelves in the book room, I find myself wanting to break up with some of my books. Books I loved for years! The ones I am thinking of repel all attempts at linking our names inextricably forever, by accepting my bookplates into their pages. Their endpapers contain maps or elaborate illustrations right out to their edges. Other pages contain half-titles, bookplates from previous owners, designs, what-have-you. No place whatsoever to put a bookplate. And let's not even talk about subject matter or specific authors. Well, let's, just for a second. A few authors in particular seem to be quite clear that there is NO ROOM in our relationship for any kind of reciprocity, from a basic, polite, readerly friendship to anything more serious than that - with their books it's truly The Them Show, and that's all there is to it. Kind of reminds me of someone I once knew very well. Someone no longer in my life, who made very little room for me, long ago, when I didn't even know I needed room simply to exist.
But those were during the dark ages. The years B.R., as we call them around here (Before Ryan). I have oceans of room now, and I don't want to dwell on any exes. And I don't even want to name any names! Of old friends, or of those authors whose books I bought religiously when I was in my 20s and 30s and then slowly stopped buying in my 40s and now at 50 find myself eyeing askance, while thinking Do we really know each other any more? And Why did things change between us? It's too sad to contemplate for long - we want the books we love to always be the books we love! At least I do, I know I don't speak for anyone else. Right now I'm not exactly culling the shelves of these lost loves, but I am not putting my bookplates in them, that much is certain. And they may indeed go, in the near future, to make more room for...
...all the beloved books. Let's mention some of those. It is a joy to visit with them anew, in my current quest to add bookish ephemera to the continuum of such. I was thinking the other day about how much ephemera I seem to generate, in life. Scads of it! When I had my bookshop, a local letterpress printer made several different bookmarks for me, and the shop receipts, and business cards. The shop was listed (and my antiques mall booth is still listed) in the local antiquarian and used book guide. I used to work in collage, and had files and files full of old paper scraps and images all sorted by subject. I also used to do quite a bit of letterpress printing, and made broadsides, miniature books (both printed and blank), not-so-miniature books, in editions and as one-of-a-kind items. Then as a painter I had postcards printed for various shows and for my new business cards, and in the past few years my solo painting shows have existed not only up on the walls of the gallery but also in printed catalogues for those shows. And now I am offering a few books I made using Blurb, on my painting website. And of course, I am putting these glorious commissioned bookplates into my dearest books, one by one. I think I've bookplated (new verb I just invented) around a hundred and fifty art books so far, and possibly two hundred other books, in the subjects of poetry, travel, memoir, and literature.
Interestingly, the subject that seems to me to accept bookplateage (new noun I just invented) most readily is that of belles-lettres. The books I have in this catch-all genre feel perfect for the addition of bookplates inside their front or back covers. Because let's face it, bookplates can feel a bit belles-lettrish in general. Twee, even. As do little essay collections about this and that. They are a match made in heaven, in my book. (Sorry.) Authors not widely known, almost always out of print, often considered minor (hate that), who may have written for literary magazines long ago, then collected their journalism, essays, and occasional writings into tidy cloth hardcovers and given them titles like Lemon Verbena (by E.V. Lucas, Lippincott 1932) or Pleasures and Palaces (by Frances and Gertrude Warner, Houghton Mifflin 1933). I love these collections of essays, reviews, short unclassifiable pieces, almanac-style materials, daybooks. In fact in spending time with my books in this close way, I have come to the conclusion that this genre might be one of my favorite of all. I do love diaries, and collected letters, and memoirs, and art books in which the artist writes about life and work, but yes I do love these odd little collections of sweet nothings so very very much. I can hardly say why. I am trying! Like, Old Junk (by H.M. Tomlinson, Jonathan Cape 1925). And Personal Pleasures (by Rose Macaulay, I have a softcover reprint, I pine for a first edition: Victor Gollancz 1935). I think of Horace Walpole and his dislike of epic literature and his love of the bibelot instead, and feel sympathy with him once more, as I did so often when I was reading his letters. Sometimes I do not want some big narrative or an entire novel or biography. I just want a bit of good literature: interesting, well-written, short, intelligent, about the stuff of life.
These are books and authors I cannot envision ever breaking up with. They contain lifetimes of steady enjoyment. They make room for the reader. And I may even rearrange my bookshelves, quite soon, to make more room for them. I am thinking of splitting off contemporary fiction and novels into their own bookcases, and creating a new section only for belles-lettres. Right now they are scattered throughout literature, reference books, literary criticism, even in travel, and books-about-books (where Christopher Morley resides, and lord knows he published many collections that could well be classified as belles-lettres). I'd like to have at least a shelf or two of these books. I'd like to visit some used book shops and find more! My bookplates sure love them, and as I already said several times, so do I. It bears repeating.