There is space on everyone’s bookshelves for books one has outgrown but can’t throw away. They hold your youth between their pages, like flowers pressed on a summer’s day.
Ultimately, the number of books always exceeds the space allocated so I’m in the process of thinning-out my library; not an easy task for a booklover. I have spent hours browsing these old friends; many will remain on the shelves and some will go to the charity shop; a few may be put on eBay.
Selecting A Discourse by John Norris, I know that this is the oldest book I have. The imprint states: Printed for James Norris at the Sign of the King’s Arms without Temple Bar, 1685. It’s more than three hundred and thirty years old and I wonder if today’s computer to press creations will survive as long. Printed books, old and new, are there for us in libraries and bookshops where they can be quietly browsed in a silence that can be felt.
I place a few books into a cardboard box. Who will be the next person to hold them, learn from them and enjeoy a 50p. bargain purchased in a charity shop? I look at more books, dusty friends, accessible and wise counsellors and open a volume of poems by W.B.Yeats; I read:
When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep.
Contemplating these words I continue to browse. I can remember where most of the books came from; they are a diary of my life but the cull must continue and the once orderly shelves begin to resemble the Manhattan skyline. Many of these books came from places I have visited. They are not lumps of lifeless paper but voices, distant in time and place. Here is The Philippines Rediscovered. Did I ever discover them in the first place, I wonder? More than two years in the country and I saw only Manila, its environs and Cebu. A note inside reads:
Dear Mr. Reynolds,
Thank you for making Richmonde your second home. Best regards, Your Richmonde Family.
The Richmonde Hotel and my client did make me feel at home, like part of their families, but that’s the Filipino way. I was complimented by a Filipino who told me that ‘I behaved in The Philippines like a Filipino. And why not? They were giving me my livelihood and good memories, the least I could do was to respect them. I also met villains there. I had a friend who had been an American actor and crooner in the 1960s; he had married the top Filipino actress who also became my friend. He had her killed for her life insurance! Another friend was a BBC Radio journalist who had visited The Philippines and decided to stay there. He said that he had found the city he was going to die in; I hoped he meant naturally. The Philippines Rediscovered is returned to the shelf alongside England Is A Garden, in which the first thing I read is a quotation from Kipling:
Our England is a garden that is full of stately views
Of borders, beds and shrubberies and lawns and avenues
How an English garden contrasts the glorious chaos that is The Philippines.
More memories are recalled as more books are returned to the shelves from where, in the winter of my life, they now spread the scents and sounds of summer.
I make a coffee and sit in quiet reflection.
The library walls are lined with shelves lined with books. Books on many subjects, books of many shapes and sizes; some tall, some short, some fat, some slim, side by side they are a United Nations of literature in a rainbow of colours.
But, what happens when the library lights are turned off and the doors are closed? Do they come down from the shelves, take off their jackets and do the characters have secret chats?
By Brian Reynolds