By derek beaulieu.
I dream of bookstores and libraries.
I dream of finding the perfect bookstore or library, the oneric storehouse of all the volumes which
I knew existed just beyond my fingertips. When I explore corporeal libraries, I always compare them
to my bibliophillic dreamscapes.
Like déjà vu or a faintly remembered conversation there are a few shoppes and libraries that hint at the possibilities, but these are merely appetizers for my yearned-for main course.
Jorge Luis Borges in his poem "Poemes de los Dones" famously said that he "imagined that Paradise will be some kind of library." It is not unusual for me to dream of nondescript doors that open onto dishevelled stacks and shelves, piles of maps and chapbooks, garret rooms of obscure titles and rarely-seen folios. While Borges said "I cannot sleep unless I am surrounded by books," I often dream that books surround me.
I am drawn to libraries.
Small or large, a collection of books will no doubt attract my eye. Whenever I am at someone else's house, I am drawn - like so many of my colleagues - to my host's bookcases and the evidence of their reading. Authors, scholars and academics are often socially awkward and I find myself discovering more about a host's personality from their bookcases than I do from their conversation. How are the books arranged? What subject matters (and authors) are represented? What periods reflected? How are the books kept?
I have a friend whose library consists solely - as a means of limiting the size of his collection - of first editions. He does not loan his books and believes that they are best preserved for posterity under UV-protective glass. Another colleague's books were re-arranged by his spouse from a randon array into a more aesthetically-pleasing arranement based upon colour and height...the books soon wandered back to their original randomness reflecting his more idiosyncratic way of looking at the world.
My personal library threatens to overtake our apartment, and is arranged by genre, author's last name and then by height...with a few nods to practicality. There's a bookcase for visual art; two for graphic novels and comics; four for fiction, poetry, drama and theory; and one for a further mix of additional visual art, graphic novels, typography, travel books, literary journals, and a hodge-podge of other genres - and that doesn't include my daughter's growing collection, nor my partner's. The juxtaposition of books upon a shelf is one of the thrills of wandering a library (my own has an intriguing juxtsposition of Francis Picabia, Vanessa Place, Gabriel Pomerand, Francis Ponge and Bern Porter).
I continue to be dumbfounded by the University of _________'s decision to move any books from their collection that have not been signed out in the last 3 years into off-site storage. These books will only be available to readers and returned to the stacks if requested by name and call number. In my opinion this "culling of the herd" based on frequency of usage not only prevents the thrill of browsing, but it also prevents unexpected eruptions within directed research. Students will no longer encounter any books on the shelf that haven't been placed there by previous research. The ocean of eye-catching spines, unexpected mis-filed books, or volumes sadly unexplored by recent scholars will be drastically reduced into a much shallower pool. Over the last year I have heard a veritable choir of graduate students and colleagues bemoaning the disappearing thrill of browsing.
Calgary writer derek beaulieu has written numerous books of poetry,
conceptual fiction and criticism. He teaches Creative Writing, Technical
Writing, Theory and Contemporary Canadian Literature at Mount Royal
University and the Alberta College of Art + Design. He was a short-listed
nominee for the position of Calgary's 1st Poet Laureate.
Visit his blog at: http://derekbeaulieu.wordpress.com