Friday, January 8, 2010

Blame It on Sir Walter Scott

My passion for books began when I was 12 years old. My parents took me to a monthly "special books" sale at the Bainbridge Island Library and down in the library basement, on a table with a bunch of other oldies but goodies were two of the still most beautiful books I've ever seen. Two volumes from the late 1800's, one of The Lady of the Lake and other of Marmion, both by Sir Walter Scott. With gilt embossed covers in elegant Victorian scroll, gold-trimmed edges and finely drawn ink illustrations, these books sung to me, awakening a passion previously unknown. From that moment on I was hooked. Lovely, elegant, fanciful books were my weakness but any book with character and style and quirkiness would catch my fancy, a habit I finally had to start to tamper down or else I'd become a hoarder, living in a bedroom surrounded by a lamp, a glass of wine, a cat and mountains of books.....a book collector's both fantasy and nightmare.

To be fair, I can't blame it all on Scott. My love of books began earlier. Much, much earlier. At a young age my brilliant, and I mean that literally, parents told us that we could go to bed at 8:00...or we could stay up and read until 8:30. Suddenly what to some might be a punishment to us became a privilege, a way to sneak past your bedtime. Something to be desired, not resisted. All five of us became voracious readers, passing books between ourselves, and, eventually, our parents. It didn't matter if it was the perfectly written book as long as it was entertaining. And sometimes it didn't even have to be entertaining if, in my case, it was pretty and looked good on my shelf.

I look at the treasures of books I have collected and having to narrow them down is as difficult in some ways as having to choose among pets. I attempted to give up a pet very recently to a good home but was relieved and thrilled to have the animal returned. While a pet is obviously much more difficult, to a book collector each book on the shelf takes on an individual personality, sometimes even embodies a moment in your life and reminds you of where you've been and where you want to go. Though some books I'm surprised are easy to get rid of, like the possessions I previously thought precious but could easily sell, others I had thought I could part with are surprisingly hard to let go, even at a price. One book I love, don't need to keep and can't bring myself to sell will be sent to a very pregnant best friend in New York as a surprise. It, like a pet, needs to go to a carefully selected loving home that will value and care for it. Warts and all.

My friend Ana, not knowing of my particular love of old books, gave me yesterday one of the most beautiful journals I've ever seen. Lovely leather binding, crisp, untouched pages. It makes me long for a quill pen and a jar of ink. I won't journal in it per se....I'm much too sporadic and spontaneous of a writer to really be a successful journaler. I've tried, and I love the romantic Jane Austen-esque notion of it, but inevitably I fail. However, I am a notorious list maker and idea jotter and that book can be the outlet of my moments of brilliance that happen in non-computerized situations. Today walking Otis I thought of this very blog and wished I had the book with me to write down ideas. In the movie theatre today I had a similar thought, though that might have pissed off my viewing neighbors if I'd taken the book out and started scribbling. So the little journal from now on comes with me and becomes the scratch pad for my future inspiration.

I had a moment today where I realized how funny and fitting it is my life has taken this circle. Looking at this beautiful, incredibly rendered film I realized that I don't have a passion for making films. I love storytelling. But not filmmaking. And, more specifically, I love books. I'm crazy about books. All my life. At every stage. I want books. I love books. I gift books. I covet books. And the only things that compare for me at that level of interest are houses and England. Whenever I go to someone's old house I pester the owner to know what year was it built, who lived there, what its history was, are there any ghosts, what are its quirks. Houses to me are living creatures that in a way take on the personality of the people who live in it and look after it. Years of growing up going to the library as a treat or sneaking that last chapter after "lights out" created that passionate bibliophile. Similarly, those same years watching Masterpiece Theatre, All Creatures Great and Small and The Two Ronnies, taking highland dancing lessons after school and listening to the Black Watch in the car with Dad reinforced the anglophile in me. So while no one's paying me to do it....yet....the thought that somehow I've stumbled upon a career that includes living in England and writing books about houses just makes me wonder.... did I not think of this before?

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